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Attacks seen to echo embassy bombings

By Mike Fish

(CNN) -- As authorities piece together the puzzle that is the team of terrorist hijackers, attorneys who represented some of those found guilty in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, see the fingerprints of Osama bin Laden's worldwide terrorist network in the attacks on Washington and New York.

The August 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. Bin Laden, a dissident Saudi-born millionaire, was among those indicted by a U.S. District Court in New York, although he was never captured and remains atop the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.

Attorneys for the embassy bombers say it is highly unlikely, however, that their clients have any insight into the New York and Washington attacks.

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"It is hard to tell the similarities from the front end, but from the back end you can see,'' said an attorney who asked not to be identified because his client still awaits sentencing. "It required a certain amount of money or financing. I don't know that somebody could come up with $20,000 to $25,000 for a pilot license.

"They've got four or five guys, maybe more, doing it. They all had (first-class) tickets. They all rented houses. It does add up, especially when it is a long-term project.

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"And it involves people who operate locally. You look at the Nairobi bombings -- they had Africans (who took part in the attack). And here they apparently had people who were in the country for a period of time.''

President Bush has made it clear that bin Laden, head of the militant Islamic group al Qaeda, is the "prime suspect'' in the latest attacks that left more than 6,000 people dead or missing.

U.S. authorities believe a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations under bin Laden's influence are also responsible for the embassy attacks as well as last October's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

At least three men convicted last May in the embassy bombings acknowledged learning how to make explosives at Islamic militant training camps financed by bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Sentencing for the four convicted in the bombings was set for September 12, but prior to Labor Day it was delayed until October 18 -- and now faces another delay. Attorneys believe there is no connection between the September 11 attacks and the original sentencing date.

The attacks linked to al Qaeda make common use of "sleepers'' -- agents sent overseas to lie low while awaiting missions. In addition, the terrorists in many cases were relatively young and educated. Several studied or earned degrees in specialty fields like engineering and urban planning -- with bin Laden having earned a degree in civil engineering.

Mail drops and post office boxes were also used.

'Speaks for itself'

Anthony Ricco, who represented Mohamed Sadeeh Odeh, is struck by the fact that the embassy trials also unearthed that some men connected to bin Laden were taking flight training courses and had ties to supporters in Germany.

"Some of the seeds were there, but it seems nobody focused in on them,'' Rico said.

Above all, those tied to the terrorist attacks were fanatical enough to enlist for, or at least accept, suicide missions.

"It speaks for itself,'' attorney David I. Bruck said of the similarities.

Bruck, a death penalty specialist, was a court-appointed attorney for Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali -- who expected to die a martyr in the Nairobi embassy bombing. According to a criminal complaint, al-'Owhali told the FBI he rode in the passenger seat of a bomb-laden van to the embassy in Nairobi and tossed a grenade at a guard outside.

"He was 19 when he went off to Afghanistan and 21 at the time of the crime,'' Bruck said. "He was in his second year of studying Islamic law. He was from a prosperous, middle-class family.

"He fit more the stereotype of a suicide bomber. I read ... about the people they're viewing now with some alarm, the fact that some of these guys had families and roots.''

The initial portrait of several terrorists living comfortable lives with their families, however, is now taking a hit as investigators suspect some hijackers may have used fake or stolen identification.

Difficulty deterring

And in cases like this, authorities are baffled as to how to deter fanatics willing to detonate themselves into paradise.

"The irony of all this is the way that our country deals with acts such as this is to treat them through the criminal justice system,'' said Matthew Fishbein, former chief assistant U.S. attorney in New York. "And the ultimate penalty, the greatest penalty that can be imposed is a result that a number of these people were willing to face as part of their actions. When you're trying to think of how to deter actions like this, you wonder whether ultimately even a successful prosecution is going to accomplish that.''

Bruck successfully argued against the death penalty for al-'Owhali last year, claiming in part that it would make him a martyr in certain parts of the Muslim world and do nothing to deter terrorism.

He worries now that bin Laden is scheming to draw the United States and its supporters into a response that would rally a large segment of the Muslim world.

"It seems evident that the retaliation is what probably is the goal of bin Laden,'' Bruck said. "He doesn't assume we are going to retaliate, he is counting on our retaliation. If by some miracle we kill him, he goes to paradise. So that is not much of a deterrent.

"And if we don't manage to eliminate him, then he will exploit the aftermath of the strikes that he is counting. It instantly elevates him to the level of Nikita Khrushchev or Joseph Stalin, as sort of leader of a contending super power and the only other one in the world besides the United States.''

Bruck isn't sold on the idea of dealing with bin Laden through the U.S. judicial system, either, viewing him as a charismatic figure capable of turning political theater to his advantage outside the United States. He says it might be seen to outsiders as more legitimate if he was to stand before an international tribunal.

From his experience with the Nairobi bombing case, Bruck said he witnessed bin Laden enhance his support in the Muslim community after former President Clinton ordered missile strikes on Sudan in reprisals for the embassy bombing.

"I certainly heard from Islamists, who were overseas and were shocked by the embassy bombing,'' he said. "But then I saw all the political momentum shift back in bin Laden's direction as a result of the August missile strikes ...

"Bin Laden, politically, was bleeding because it was such a horrible incident and so many innocent African people had been slaughtered. It was very, very hard. That one was going to be hard to finesse for bin Laden. But then suddenly everything changed by the missile strike on the pharmaceutical factory.

"I can't help think our government remembers that and knows that. But there are lot of contending pressures and lot of outrage and hurt that may have to find some outlet," Bruck said.

"The defining of this new age was not the (New York and Washington) bombings. It is what happens in the next few days and weeks.''

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