06 February 2001
Bin Laden Associate First Witness in Embassy Bombing Trial
Washington File Staff Correspondent
New York -- U.S. attorneys began outlining the worldwide conspiracy of the terrorist organization al Qaeda on the second day of the East Africa embassy bombings trial February 6, with the introduction of a secret informant who worked closely with the organization's leader, Usama bin Laden.
With opening statements completed, the prosecutors of the four men charged in the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Nairobi settled into the long, often tedious and complicated process of presenting evidence and establishing connections among the four defendants.
On trial are Wadih El Hage, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Lebanon; Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, a Jordanian; Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owali, a Saudi Arabian; and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian. They are charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals; to murder, kidnap, and maim U.S. nationals; and to destroy U.S. national defense buildings in the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands. Odeh and Mohamed are charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. They are part of a group of 22 charged in the embassy bombings. Thirteen are at large, including bin Laden, who is thought to be in Afghanistan.
As the prosecution had promised, it presented the witness that U.S. Attorney Paul Butler said February 5 would tell the jury "what al Qaeda is, how it was formed, and how it worked. He will tell you what he did for the group and what others did for the group."
The identity of Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl had been kept secret until he walked into the hushed courtroom February 6 to take the stand. Artists in the courtroom to sketch the proceedings were instructed by the judge not to draw al-Fadl; use of cameras during the trial is prohibited.
Under U.S. protection for five years after pleading guilty to a terrorist charge in a confidential proceeding, al-Fadl had been referred to in court papers as "confidential source 1" or CS-1. He left East Africa two years before the embassy bombings took place and is not one of 22 persons charged in the crimes.
Under questioning from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, al-Fadl slowly recalled the details of his early life and involvement in the beginnings of al Qaeda, his relationship with bin Laden, and his ties with other terrorist groups in Africa and the Middle East as al Qaeda expanded its network across the region.
Speaking in halting English and with the occasional help of an interpreter, al-Fadl said he was born in Sudan in 1963 and first arrived in the United States in 1986 with a visa to study. He lived in the U.S. for about two years, first in Brooklyn, New York, and then in the states of Georgia and North Carolina.
While in Brooklyn, al-Fadl said, he worked for Al Farooq Mosque on Atlantic Avenue helping to raise funds for the mujahidin fighting then Soviet Union troops in Afghanistan. He said he worked with Mustafa Shalabi, an Egyptian who ran the office, and went to Pakistan to help the mujahidin after Shalabi said he should "go to help other brothers" and arranged for visas, tickets, and money.
Upon his arrival in Peshawar, Pakistan, al-Fadl said he was taken to a guest house, given a "nickname for security" purposes, received weapons training, and helped in a series of "guest houses." He said that he slipped in and out of Afghanistan to fight during 1988 and 1989. He also met many people with whom he would associate over the years, trained others, learned how to run training camps, and "studied Islam religion and jihad."
It was during his early days in Pakistan that he first met Usama bin Laden, al-Fadl said, "during and after the prayer," when he "talked with the people to tell them about the jihad."
Bin Laden said: "'You have to make jihad. You have to be patient. You have to follow the emir,'" al-Fadl recounted. That meant one has to "leave money, leave family, business," he said.
Arriving at one training camp in Khost, Afghanistan, in 1989, bin Laden began talking about expanding his activities, al-Fadl said. "He was thinking about making a group."
"'We have to make kalifa, one Muslim leader for whole world. We have to make Muslim government,'" bin Laden told him, al-Fadl said.
After religious lectures, the group talked "about what we want to do," he said. Bin Laden "said he is going to make a group focused on jihad, do other things out of Afghanistan."
The name of the group, al-Fadl said, was "al Qaeda."
Al-Fadl said he was the third person to "make bayat" or swear allegiance to al-Qaeda and its leader, bin Laden.
When you make bayat, he said, "you swear. You agree about agenda, jihad. You obey orders, whatever they ask you to do. You have to be ready all the time. ... They ask me to go anywhere in the world for specific mission or target, I have to do."
Al-Fadl said that al Qaeda members were told by Islamic leaders that it was permissible to kill innocent people who might get in the way of their missions to attack military buildings. "'You should do it and not worry about it,'" he said Mamdouh Mahmud Salim told him. "'If is a good person, they go to paradise. If bad person, they go to hell."</b
Salim is also in U.S. custody awaiting trial. His trial was separated from that of the other four after he stabbed a Metropolitan Correctional Center guard, critically wounding him, in a November 2000 escape attempt.
Al-Fadl outlined the original structure of al Qaeda, which included military, money and business, Islamic study, and media committees, along with a "shura council," which made religious rulings.
As his daylong testimony proceeded, Al-Fadl told of the many jobs he performed for al Qaeda between 1989 and 1993. He traveled to Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Jordan, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, and Eritrea, at times taking packets of $100,000 in $100 bills in his suitcase to help al Qaeda members and causes in those countries.
He said that al Qaeda was in Chechnya "to help the Chechnya people against Russia, to buy some weapons for them, train some people over there." Al-Fadl said it cost about $300 to send a fighter with a gun to Chechnya.
Al Fadl said that he also helped arrange two camel caravans to smuggle Russian rifles into Egypt. He also delivered $100,000 to Jamaht e Jihal el Eritrea, fighting to change the government in Eritrea. Other times he brought $20,000 to a member of the Qatar Charitable Organization for "for an attack outside of Sudan" and sent four crates of weapons to Yemen, some intended to be used in Yemen and some to be used against Americans in the Gulf.
Other members of the organization he worked with came from Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Somalia, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Jordan.
On an early trip to Egypt, al-Fadl said, he was told to shave his beard and wear Western clothes, to take cigarettes, and to carry cologne in his luggage. If stopped by customs agents he was told to "be nice and smile. Have cigarettes and cologne to look like I am interested in women." He was also told not to take any religious books or papers and "don't talk about jihad or Islam or Islamic law."
He described how al Qaeda moved to Sudan from Afghanistan because "we don't have too much work because the Russians have left." Sudan was selected because the Islamic National Front government "wanted to make a relationship with al Qaeda," al-Fadl said.
Al-Fadl said that he traveled to Sudan, participated in meetings with Sudanese intelligence, rented houses for al Qaeda members, and bought farms -- one of which cost $250,000 and another $180,000; the farms were used for training fighters. He said the Sudanese intelligence service helped the organization get people and weapons, including Stinger anti-aircraft weapons, into and out of Sudan and helped al Qaeda check potential members to make sure they were not spies for other governments.
Al Qaeda rented a Sudan Airlines cargo plane to bring sugar to Afghanistan and return with the organization's weapons and missiles to Sudan, he said.
He cited three companies set up by bin Laden in Khartoum -- Laden International, Taba Investment, and Hijra Construction Company. They were used to support the organization and provide cover for importing explosives and moving operatives. Al-Fadl also described the offices of the companies and of bin Laden on McNimr Street in Khartoum, and the nine-room house used by bin Laden.
Al Qaeda and bin Laden had accounts in banks in London, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Kuwait, and Dubai, he said.
Involved in payrolls, al-Fadl said that the average salary for an employee of one of bin Laden's companies was about $200 a month. Members of al Qaeda received an additional $300 a month as well as supplies of sugar, tea, and cooking oil; free medical care, and travel expenses.
In June 1991, after U.S. forces helped expel Iraq from Kuwait, bin Laden and other al Qaeda members said, "We cannot let the American army stay in the Gulf area. ... We have to make them get out," al-Fadl said.
In 1993, after U.S. forces were part of a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, bin Laden again issued a new fatwah to get the U.S. out of the area, al-Fadl said, because he believed "'if [they are] successful in Somalia, next could be Sudan and Islamic countries.
"'The American army has now come to the Horn of Africa, and we have to stop the head of the snake,'" bin Laden said, according to al-Fadl. "'The snake is America, and we have to stop the snake. We have to stop what they do in the horn of Africa.'"
It was during al Qaeda's early days in Sudan that he met Wadih El Hage, one of the four defendants, al-Fadl said.
The prosecution charges that El Hage, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Lebanon, was an important member of al Qaeda and at one point was bin Laden's personal assistant; he allegedly established businesses to help the organization and passed on messages to group members as he traveled under cover as a businessman.
Asked to identify El Hage, al-Fadl stood up in the witness box, looked slowly around the courtroom and at the L-shaped table where the four defendants and their lawyers sat, before pointing to the man "third from the right." El Hage had no reaction.
Al-Fadl said that he also met and worked with members of Gammaa al Islamya, which was headed by Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. Bin Laden urged the two groups, which al-Fadl said "hated each other because of their agenda," to work together because "now we have one enemy. Come together and fight one enemy, it is better. Forget the differences, focus on one enemy."
Abdel-Rahman was arrested in the United States in 1993. He is currently in prison after being convicted of conspiring to kill Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and of plotting to blow up the United Nations headquarters and other New York sites. Al Qaeda did nothing to help Abdel-Rahman after his arrest, al-Fadl said.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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