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Embassy bombing defendants' confessions admissible, says U.S. Judge

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- In a setback for three defendants standing trial in connection with the August 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand Monday decided to admit the defendants' post-arrest statements into trial.

In Manhattan Federal Court Monday, Sand announced his intention to deny the suppression motions submitted by alleged Kenya bombers Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and alleged Tanzania bomber Khalfan Khamis Mohamed.

Sand read an overview of his forthcoming opinion from the bench to accommodate requests from attorneys to know the decision prior to the completion of jury selection, now in the 10th day. The judge said he expected a jury of 12 and six alternates to be seated by Friday, and if that is accomplished, the trial's opening statements would occur Monday, February 5.

The suppression motions centered on claims by the defendants that they were denied their right to an attorney and their right to remain silent while they were incarcerated and questioned in Africa. Two defendants, al-'Owhali and Odeh, claimed they spoke to American investigators in the face of harsher treatment and threats by Kenyan authorities.

Al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi national arrested in Kenya five days after the bombings, was questioned over a two-week period before his extradition to the United States. "We find al-'Owhali was in fact advised of his right to counsel," Sand said, adding that his "waiver of his right to counsel was a consequence of the strong desire he expressed to be tried in America so that he could confront his avowed enemy."

FBI agent Steven Gaudin, who led the interrogation, testified in last week's hearing that al-'Owhali had never asked for an attorney until six sessions of questioning were completed and al-'Owhali was reviewing the form recommending his extradition. By then, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead prosecutor, had traveled to Kenya to interview al-'Owhali.

Al-'Owhali signed a form on August 22, 1998, stating he was "fully advised of my rights" and "my right not to answer questions without a lawyer present."

Sand said al-'Owhali's talking after that point was "a course of action he voluntarily chose to pursue."

Al-'Owhali told investigators he traveled in the passenger seat of the Nairobi bomb truck and that the Kenya embassy bombing was supposed to be a martyr mission he did not expect to survive, according to court documents. A total of 213 people, including 12 Americans, died in the Nairobi blast. More than 4,000 people were injured.

Agents say al-'Owhali told them he had been trained in explosives in Afghan military camps run by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, whom the U.S. has indicted on charges that he masterminded the bombings and led a worldwide conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy American government property.

Sand also announced he will be rejecting suppression motions by Odeh and K.K. Mohamed. Odeh, a 35-year-old Jordanian, claimed investigators never told him that he could have a lawyer and that Kenyan police coerced his statements with violent threats.

Odeh was arrested on the day of the embassy bombings, August 7, 1998, at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, trying to enter the country with a fake passport. Pakistani police interrogated Odeh for more than a week before sending him back to Kenya, where he was interrogated for 12 days.

"Odeh made a voluntary and knowing waiver of his right to counsel and that was not the consequence of duress inflicted by the Americans but in response to Odeh's wishes," Sand said.

FBI agents say Odeh told them he was an active member of al Qaeda, the reputed terrorist network allegedly run by bin Laden, that he believed al Qaeda carried out the embassy bombings, and that as a member of the group he accepted responsibility for the bombings.

FBI agents say Odeh told them he learned how to use explosives in al Qaeda's camps, after joining the group in 1992. Odeh told the agents, they say, that he trained Islamic fighters in Somalia who were opposed to United Nations intervention there. Attacks on U.S. troops in October 1993 killed 18 Americans stationed in Mogadishu, Somalia -- a part of bin Laden's decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans, according to the indictment behind the embassy bombings trial.

Mohamed, a 27-year-old from Tanzania, was arrested in October 1999 in South Africa, where lived under an alias for a year after the embassy bombings. After South African police questioned Mohamed for two hours, two FBI agents and Assistant United States Attorney Ken Karas, a trial prosecutor, questioned him for 11-hours over three days. Prosecutors allege Mohamed rented the residence where he and his accomplices assembled the Tanzania bomb, that he ground the TNT for it, and the rode in the actual bomb truck.

The Dar es Salaam attack killed 11 people and injured more than 85 others.

Sand said Mohamed's suppression motion "will be denied as untimely and on the merits." Sand had previously denied suppression motions from the fourth defendant, Wadih el Hage, who had protested warrant-less searches and wiretaps on his former home in Kenya. El Hage, a 40-year-old naturalized American from Lebanon, is a former business associate of bin Laden and an alleged operator of his Kenya terrorist cell.

El Hage's wife and the eldest of their seven children from Arlington, Texas, were permitted to sit in court Monday to watch the voir dire process otherwise closed to the public and the press

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Links to United States Embassies and Consulates Worldwide
Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999
FBI Websites Document Evidence Against Bin Laden
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