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Embassy Bombing Suspects to Stand Trial After Confession

By Michael Grunwald
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Two suspects with alleged ties to international terrorist Osama bin Laden will stand trial in New York for the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, a major breakthrough after just 20 days of the largest overseas investigation in American history, officials said Thursday.

Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, a Yemeni national who allegedly rode on the explosive-laden truck that destroyed the American embassy in Nairobi on Aug. 7, was flown in from Nairobi Wednesday night, officials said. He was arraigned Thursday in a Manhattan courthouse on 12 counts of murder, one for each American killed in the attack, plus one count of conspiracy and one count of using weapons of mass destruction.

Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, a Palestinian engineer who allegedly helped plan the bombing, was hustled out of Nairobi on Thursday and is expected to arrive in New York on Friday, sources said. Odeh, who has told Pakistani authorities that he was part of an Islamic terrorism team recruited and financed by bin Laden, will be arraigned on similar charges, the sources said.

After meeting last week with FBI director Louis J. Freeh, Kenyan authorities made the surprising decision to allow the suspects to be tried in the United States, even though the vast majority of the 247 people killed and over 5,000 people wounded in the bombing were Kenyan. A simultaneous bombing of the American embassy in Tanzania claimed 11 lives, none of them American, and injured 86 people, including two Americans.

Thursday, just a week after U.S. cruise missiles struck targets associated with bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan, Freeh held a triumphant news conference in Washington to announce the rendition of Al-'Owhali. Freeh said the suspect had confessed to FBI agents that he was trained in Afghan camps affiliated with bin Laden, that he had attended meetings and conferences with bin Laden and that he had expected to die as a martyr in the bombing.

In a gathering of top law enforcement and national security officials, Freeh was joined by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Attorney General Janet Reno, along with representatives from Kenya and Tanzania. All of them emphasized the unusual level of cooperation in the case: among American law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic agencies, as well as among American and African investigators.

"Seldom has such an international effort been so productive so quickly," Freeh said. "From our perspective, this stands out as a shining example."

President Clinton also hailed the arrest and rendition of Al-'Owhali as a milestone in the struggle against terrorism, and vowed to continue that struggle on several fronts.

"We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal - law enforcement, diplomacy and, when necessary, America's military might," Clinton said.

An FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday gives an outline of the case against Al-'Owhali, whose alias is Khalid Salim Saleh Bin Rashed, as well as his links to bin Laden, a renegade Saudi financier described by Freeh as a "primary subject" of the investigation.

The affidavit suggests that Al-'Owhali was part of a wide-ranging terrorist conspiracy led by bin Laden, although it does not specifically accuse bin Laden of anything but extremist views. So far, bin Laden has not been charged in connection to the East Africa bombings, but a Manhattan grand jury has returned a sealed indictment implicating him as a "ringleader" in earlier terrorist attacks, sources said.

According to the affidavit by FBI special agent Daniel J. Coleman, Al-'Owhali traveled to Nairobi on July 31 from Lahore, Pakistan. A week later, while riding in the truck that was carrying the bomb to its destination, he threw a flash grenade at an embassy guard, officials said.

Al-'Owhali later told the FBI that "the operation was supposed to be a martyrdom operation," but he ended up in a Nairobi hospital with lacerations on his hands and face and a large wound on his back, the affidavit said. He was interviewed there two days after the blast by Kenyan police, who later arrested him. At the hospital, Al-'Owhali discarded two keys that fit a padlock on the rear of the truck used in the blast, and three bullets from a gun he had left in the truck. Hospital employees later found the keys and bullets, the affidavit said.

On Aug. 12, Al-'Owhali gave his first interview to the FBI, saying he had been standing in a bank near the embassy at the time of the explosion. He also claimed he was still wearing the same clothing as on Aug. 7, "despite the fact that his clothes bore no traces of blood," but later admitted he had lied, the affidavit said.

On Aug. 20, Al-'Owhali gave the FBI a detailed confession, saying he had been trained in explosives, hijacking and kidnapping in a number of camps in Afghanistan. Some of the camps were affiliated with al Qaida, "an international terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden, dedicated to opposing non-Islamic governments with force and violence," the affidavit said.