U.S. Jury Indicts Bin Laden on Terrorism Charges
By Vernon Loeb
The officials would only confirm the existence of the indictment, refusing to specify when it was handed up or what alleged crimes it covered. An indictment would provide the grounds for bin Laden's capture and removal to the United States to stand trial, and could be used to help persuade foreign governments to deny him protection from arrest.
Bin Laden's associates have said in recent days that he is in the mountains of Afghanistan following an attack on his training bases last Thursday by the United States. U.S. officials ordered the attack after saying they had amassed "compelling" evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the embassy bombings and his intent to carry out subsequent attacks against American targets.
Officials typically refrain from commenting on the work of grand juries, particularly when indictments have been ordered sealed by a federal judge. Prosecutors often seek to have indictments sealed when the defendant is a fugitive.
One former high-ranking U.S. counterterrorism official, requesting anonymity, said he had been told by a government source involved in the case that the indictment was handed up in June. The former official said he believed the indictment was based on a "sedition" charge similar to that used to convict Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric, for inciting others to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 and plan the bombings of the United Nations and other New York landmarks. Rahman is now serving a life sentence for his role in the conspiracy.
But, judging from the range of accusations against him by U.S. officials, the indictment could pertain to other alleged crimes. Bin Laden is suspected in numerous attacks against Americans and has claimed a hand in killing U.S. servicemen in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope in 1993 and attempting to bomb U.S. troops in Yemen in late 1992.
The New York grand jury is reported to have gathered evidence last year in an attempt to show that bin Laden, thought to control an inherited fortune now worth an estimated $300 million, had been funneling funds from the Middle East to Islamic groups in Detroit, Jersey City and Brooklyn.
Kenneth Katzman, a senior Middle East analyst and terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service, has said that the grand jury had been reviewing evidence earlier this year that tied bin Laden to a 1995 bombing at Saudi National Guard headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that killed five U.S. servicemen.
In February, bin Laden and other members of a coalition called the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders urged Muslims everywhere to kill Americans all over the world "in accordance with the words of Almighty God."
"The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilian and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] . . . and in order for [U.S.] armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim," the edict said.
At the time it was issued, the CIA's Counterterrorism Center said it was the first instance in which bin Laden had broadened his threats to include U.S. civilians.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company