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  •   Tanzania Detains 2 Bombing Suspects

    By Michael Grunwald
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, September 6, 1998; Page A01

    Tanzanian investigators have arrested two suspects in the Aug. 7 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, and the FBI has filed an arrest warrant seeking a third suspect in the nearly simultaneous bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, law enforcement sources said yesterday.

    The three new suspects, like the two suspects already in U.S. custody in connection with the Nairobi attack, are all Islamic extremists with links to Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, the sources said. They added that prosecutors are already starting to form strategy for a criminal case against bin Laden, and they said the far-flung FBI investigation is still gaining momentum nearly a month after the bombings that killed 263 people and wounded more than 5,500 others.

    Sources said the new suspect in the Kenya bombing, a citizen of the tiny African archipelago of Comoros who had been living in Sudan, goes by the alias of Abdallah Mohammed Fadhul. A sealed criminal complaint seeking his arrest has been filed in New York, and on Wednesday, FBI agents and Comoran police raided homes belonging to his wife and his parents in the Comoran capital of Moroni, 180 miles off the east coast of Africa.

    So far, Fadhul has eluded capture, the sources said. But two suspects in the Kenya bombing, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al Owhali, are in custody in New York. And investigators announced yesterday that they have detained two suspects -- one Tanzanian and one non-Tanzanian -- and three informants in the Dar es Salaam blast, the first public breakthrough in that half of the case. Kenneth Piernick, the top FBI official in Tanzania, told reporters that investigators there have made "extraordinary discoveries" and are now sure they know who carried out the attack and how it was done.

    Sources said the FBI is also looking for several additional suspects in the bombings, although so far it has sought a warrant only for Fadhul. The bottom line, officials said, is that the FBI's largest overseas investigation in history is starting to unravel a wide-ranging conspiracy orchestrated by bin Laden.

    "We've reached cruising altitude," one FBI official said. "We've answered a lot of basic questions, and we've made a lot of headway. Now we're branching out all over the world."

    The arrest warrant for Fadhul may shine an odd spotlight on the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros, one of the world's poorest countries, and one of its least stable. Tucked in the strait separating Mozambique and Madagascar, Comoros has endured 18 attempted coups since its independence from France in 1975, and it remains a hotbed of unrest. It has more than 500,000 inhabitants, 85 percent of them Muslims, but fewer than 5,000 telephones.

    But sources said Comoros has been a prime example of the strong cooperation the FBI has received from foreign countries throughout its investigation of the embassy bombings. They said that Comoran officials have already agreed to extradite Fadhul to Kenya if he is found on the archipelago, and that Kenyan officials would then let the FBI take him to New York. It is not yet clear what will happen to the suspects detained in Tanzania.

    More than two dozen FBI agents arrived in Comoros last week, and local police cordoned off large swaths of Moroni for the Wednesday raids. While the FBI searched Fadhul's family's houses for explosive residue and other evidence, the Comoran police detained his wife and brother for questioning, the sources said. African media reports have suggested that the terrorists may have smuggled their explosives through Comoros, and one source noted yesterday that there is boat service linking Moroni to Mombasa, Kenya, where Odeh had lived since 1994.

    The sources would not say what role Fadhul or the suspects in Tanzania allegedly played in the bombings, but they are all believed to be members of al Qaida, which State Department documents have described as the "operational hub" of bin Laden's terrorist network. In the complaint charging Odeh with 12 counts of murder, one for each American killed in the Nairobi blast, the FBI directly accused al Qaida of planning and carrying out that attack.

    In congressional testimony last week, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh described bin Laden as a "loosely affiliated extremist," and American law enforcement and intelligence officials are still trying to determine how rigidly he has organized his followers around the world. His name came up repeatedly in the criminal complaints against Odeh and al Owhali, and prosecutors are beginning to consider whether they have enough evidence to charge him with masterminding the bombings. A grand jury in New York has already returned a sealed indictment charging bin Laden with earlier acts of terrorism, according to sources.

    "Some people think bin Laden's organization is like IBM. Some people think it's completely disorganized. I'd say we're somewhere in the middle," an FBI official said last week. "He's not a Rhodes Scholar. But he does have some organizational skills."

    The warrant for Fadhul could also bolster American complaints about Sudan, and there has been speculation that one of the suspects in the Dar es Salaam bombing was also living there. The State Department considers Sudan to be a state sponsor of terrorism, and bin Laden, who lived there from 1991 until 1996, maintains a large following of Muslim radicals in Sudan. On Aug. 20, less than two weeks after the embassy bombings, U.S. cruise missiles destroyed a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant that was believed to be producing chemical weapons for bin Laden, along with several Afghan camps described as bin Laden's terrorist training grounds.

    Over the last four weeks, nearly 500 FBI personnel have worked on the embassy bombings in more than a dozen countries. The forensic work is almost complete, and investigators have identified the explosives involved as TNT. The FBI has by all accounts gotten along well with foreign investigators, and it has even worked cooperatively with the CIA, a longtime antagonist in similar situations.

    "We've been on the opposite side of these things for too long," one FBI official said. "We realized that we needed to get on the same page and stop fighting, and we've done it. You can see the results."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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