A routine hearing in a lower Manhattan courtroom turned chaotic today when a defendant charged in conjunction with last summer's bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa sprang from his chair and rushed toward the judge.
Wadih Hage sprinted across the front of the courtroom and appeared to be rounding the corner of U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand's bench when he was tackled from behind by U.S. marshals. The visibly startled judge watched from about 10 feet away as Hage was subdued and handcuffed in front of a U.S. flag.
Hage is one of 15 men charged in an indictment with engaging in a conspiracy that led to the Aug. 7 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Between the two attacks, 224 people were killed and thousands injured. Ten of those charged, including Osama bin Laden, are still being sought.
When Hage leaped from his chair, defendant Mohamed Rashed Daoud Owhali yelled "God is great" in Arabic before being forced to the ground by marshals who believed he was also trying to leave his seat.
The remaining defendants--Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and Ali Mohamed--were quickly handcuffed but made no move to leave their seats. Ali Mohamed slowly shook his head as Hage rushed the bench.
After a short recess in which the defendants were led out of the courtroom one at a time, the hearing resumed. Hage returned--handcuffed and in leg irons--with a marshal at each side. The rest of the defendants were kept a seat apart as a dozen marshals surrounded the jury box where they sat.
Hage looked across the courtroom, his head bleeding in two places, and said he had never been part of violence in his life.
"This is the first time in my life I do this, because of so many restrictions," he said, referring to the virtual isolation in which he has been held since his arrest last September. Prosecutors say that Hage, a U.S citizen from Texas, once acted as Osama bin Laden's personal secretary.
Early in the hearing Hage raised his hand, seeking the judge's attention. His attorney, Sam Schmidt, relayed a request asking the judge to read aloud a letter Hage had written. Sand refused to read the letter, saying the court was not a "vehicle for public declarations by the defendants" but did offer a brief summary.
"The substance of the letter asserts that a responsibility lies with government officials who hadn't acted sooner based on information that was available, and that could have prevented the tragedies that took place in Nairobi," Sand said, paging through the letter.
But Hage persisted, asking the judge, "Do you mind if I read it, sir?"
Sand would not allow it and discussion of pretrial issues resumed until the outburst.
At the end of the hearing, Schmidt told the court that Hage wanted the letter entered into the public record. Sand cited concerns about possible codes within the letter, and the defendant's best interests, but said he would leave the decision to the U.S attorney's office. A decision is expected Thursday.
Schmidt would not comment on why Hage rushed from his seat.
"But I feel confident in saying he would never attack the judge," Schmidt said.