Complaint Links Bin Laden to Bombing
By Michael Grunwald
Federal prosecutors yesterday accused Osama bin Laden's militant Islamic organization of bombing the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, offering the most detailed description to date of an alleged terrorist conspiracy to kill Americans in East Africa.
In a criminal complaint against Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, a bin Laden disciple who was arraigned in Manhattan on charges that he helped plan the bombing, prosecutors suggested about as strongly as they could without a formal indictment that bin Laden was responsible for the attack. The complaint repeatedly blamed the bombing on al Qaida, an organization at the heart of bin Laden's far-flung terrorist network, and provided a detailed history of bin Laden's anti-American sentiments.
However, the complaint did not offer any direct evidence tying bin Laden to the bombing in Kenya on Aug. 7, or to a nearly simultaneous blast at the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, although it did state that most members of bin Laden's group were told to leave Kenya by Aug. 6. The two explosions killed 263 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 5,000 others.
"This is an important step forward, but we are not letting up," said Attorney General Janet Reno.
Odeh, who allegedly told Pakistani authorities that he helped plan the Nairobi attack, was flown from Nairobi to New York yesterday. He was charged with 12 counts of murder, one count of murder conspiracy, and one count of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, although the complaint said he did not confess his involvement to the FBI. It also said two witnesses told the FBI that within the last year Odeh had visited Dar es Salaam, the site of the blast in Tanzania, but Odeh was not charged in that attack.
Mohamed Rashed Daoud al Owhali, another bin Laden associate who allegedly told the FBI he threw a grenade at a guard while riding the bomb-laden truck that devastated Nairobi, was arraigned Thursday on similar charges. Yesterday's complaint against Odeh, by FBI special agent Daniel J. Coleman, said Owhali had stated the attack was "planned and carried out by members of al Qaida as part of al Qaida's overall terrorist mission," an admission that did not appear in Coleman's earlier complaint against Owhali.
Kenya has agreed to allow the United States to try both suspects, who could face the death penalty if convicted.
Yesterday's probable-cause complaint, which does not lay out the government's entire case, clearly intends to link the Nairobi bombing directly to al Qaida, and indirectly to bin Laden, described as "the emir [prince] of al Qaida." In the three weeks since the bombings, senior U.S. officials scarcely mentioned the group, instead describing bin Laden the leader of a loose, transnational network of radical Islamic organizations that he directs from his base in Afghanistan.
But yesterday's complaint pins the blame for the Nairobi bombing exclusively on al Qaida. U.S. government documents say that the Saudi-born multimillionaire founded al Qaida, or "the base," in 1988, and describe it as the "operational hub" of bin Laden's network. He has used it to train and recruit Muslim extremists around the world, and to fund supporters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Egypt, Chechnya, Somalia, Tajikistan, Yemen and elsewhere, according to U.S. accounts.
In the past, according to a declassified CIA document, al Qaida has "assisted in numerous terrorist operations around the world," including a 1995 assassination plot against Egyptian President Mubarak. "It provided a safehouse to World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and attacked U.S. soldiers in Yemen and Somalia during Operation Restore Hope," the document says.
Jack Sachs, Odeh's court-appointed lawyer, told reporters that his client admitted his links to bin Laden, but denied involvement in the bombings. "He knows him, and that's his leader," Sachs said. Odeh, 33, lives in Jordan with his wife and one child, and was last employed making and selling furniture, Sachs said.
Yesterday's complaint alleged that Odeh joined al Qaida in 1992, agreeing to follow bin Laden's orders unless they violated Islamic law. Odeh received explosives training at camps affiliated with bin Laden, and later trained Islamic fighters opposed to the United Nations humanitarian mission in Somalia, the complaint says. President Clinton accused bin Laden of responsibility for attacks against soldiers in Somalia last week when he announced the missile strikes against targets associated with bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan.
In 1994, according to the complaint, Odeh moved to Mombassa, Kenya, where he used al Qaida funds to set up a fishing business, and used the profits to support its members in Kenya. He was visited by top bin Laden commanders, and met with one member who showed him TNT and detonators he claimed he had obtained in Tanzania, the complaint said. Sources yesterday said the FBI believes that TNT was the explosive used in the East Africa bombings.
On Aug. 2, a day after he received word to prepare to leave Kenya, Odeh met with members and associates of al Qaida, including an explosives expert who led the group's Kenya cell, the complaint said. Two days later, the group allegedly checked out the American embassy, although Odeh apparently was not involved in the reconnaissance. Odeh told the FBI that all but one member of the group left Nairobi on Aug. 6; he said he was told that al Qaida members in Afghanistan were also relocating, "in order to avoid retaliation from the United States."
According to the complaint, Odeh shaved his beard before flying to Pakistan, "so as not to attract the suspicions of customs officials," but he was arrested the next day in the Karachi airport when those officials noticed he did not resemble his passport photo. He reportedly confessed to Pakistani authorities, saying his only regret was that so many non-Americans were killed. But he did not repeat those claims to the FBI.
"Odeh stated hypothetically that he would consider doing a violent bombing against Americans in Saudi Arabia or Tanzania if asked to do so by Osama bin Laden, but claimed that he would not participate in such an endeavor on Kenyan soil and had not actually participated in the recent bombings," the complaint said. "Odeh also stated that the fellow al Qaida members with whom he was staying did not tell him what they were doing, but that Odeh accepted responsibility for the bombings because he was part of the group that did them."
The complaint also details two religious edicts, or "fatwas," issued by bin Laden, one declaring a jihad, or holy war, against Americans in August 1996, another encouraging Muslims to kill Americans "anywhere in the world where they can be found." Odeh, the complaint said, was well aware of the fatwas, and of bin Laden's provocative anti-American press interviews.
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