Osama bin Laden's February 1998 order to kill Americans will be permitted as evidence against a co-defendant of a civil rights lawyer on trial for allegedly providing support to terrorists, a judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl said the fatwa was relevant in part because there are references to it in telephone conversations between defendant Ahmed Abdel Sattar and a bin Laden associate alleged to have signed the fatwa.
Sattar, a former U.S. postal worker, faces the most serious charges in the case also brought against lawyer Lynne Stewart and Mohammed Yousry, an Arabic translator.
Prosecutors have indicated that evidence of the bin Laden fatwa will be offered only against Sattar, who has been charged with conspiring to murder and kidnap people in a foreign country. Koeltl said the jury will be told it applies only to Sattar.
All three defendants are charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists who wanted to murder and kidnap.
Prosecutors have accused the three of carrying messages between Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and his followers from June 1997 to April 2002. Abdel Rahman is serving a life prison sentence after he was convicted in a 1993 plot to blow up the United Nations, an FBI building and two tunnels and a bridge in Manhattan.
Defense lawyers said they worry that permitting the directive by bin Laden into evidence may confuse the jury, especially after the judge told prospective jurors that the trial had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I think most people in this country didn't even know who bin Laden was before September 11," said David Stern, a lawyer for Yousry. He said it was likely lawyers will renew a request that their clients be tried separately from Sattar.
Stewart said she had not seen the judge's order but felt that jurors should be told that "neither 9/11 nor bin Laden has anything to do with this case."
Kenneth Paul, a lawyer for Sattar, said he gives jurors the benefit of the doubt when they say they can be fair and impartial, but he called the mention of bin Laden's fatwa "a very difficult hurdle for them to get over."
The judge also ruled Friday that he will permit evidence into the trial relating to a Nov. 17, 1997, attack by six assassins who shot and stabbed a group of tourists visiting an archaeological site in Luxor, Egypt. In the attack that killed 64 people, the assassins allegedly scattered leaflets calling for the release of Abdel Rahman.
The judge ruled that prosecutors may not call one witness who planned to testify about the attack, and he said he will not permit evidence into the trial of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors.