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Embassy bombing defendant wants confession suppressed

Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali
Al-'Owhali signed documents in Kenya waiving his Miranda rights against self-incrimination, but his attorneys say he did not understand what he was being told or asked to sign  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- One of four men standing trial for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania began arguing in closed court sessions on Tuesday that his post-arrest statements to investigators should be suppressed.

The hearing, expected to last all week, concerns Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, who allegedly admitted a role in the Nairobi blast during a 14-day period after his arrest on August 12, 1998, five days after the bombings.

The dual bombings killed 224 people -- 213 in Kenya, including 12 Americans, and 11 people in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Al-'Owhali had won this important pretrial argument, but last Friday U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Sand announced he had withdrawn his ruling, pending this week's hearing.

FBI agents who interrogated al-'Owhali in Kenya say he told them he traveled in the passenger seat of the Nairobi bomb truck and that the embassy bombing was supposed to be a martyr mission he did not expect to survive.

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Agents say al-'Owhali told them he had been trained in explosives in Afghan military camps run by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, who the U.S. has indicted for masterminding the bombings and leading a worldwide conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy American government property. Bin Laden is at large and not standing trial.

Though al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi national, signed documents in Kenya waiving his Miranda rights against self-incrimination, his attorneys say his rights were violated and his statements should not be admitted into the trial.

Al-'Owhali's lawyers say his English skills are too limited -- he speaks only broken English and can't read it -- for him to have understood what he was being told or asked to sign.

None of the FBI agents spoke Arabic, though an interpreter was brought in for the questioning.

"I did not understand I had the right to remain silent or that I had the right to an attorney. I was trapped into a position that either I speak to the Americans, whose country protected human rights, or speak to the agents of a Third World country where human rights received no consideration whatsoever," al-'Owhali has said in an affidavit filed with the court.

"'I was told I had to give a statement if I wanted to go before the court or be released," al-'Owhali said. "I was further told that if I confessed I would be helping myself," he said.

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White denied that al-'Owhali was deprived of his rights. She said in a document filed with the court that al-'Owhali spoke to American officials only after he "voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his rights."

"The hearing will show," White continued, that al-'Owhali talked "with full knowledge of the consequences of his actions."

Judge Sand told the court Friday he issued a sealed opinion January 9 on al-'Owhali's suppression motion, but said he withdrew that opinion after the government moved for a rehearing on the matter.

The suppression hearing delays the ongoing jury selection for another week.

To date, the court has retained 66 people for a pool of about 80, all of whom will be questioned again for final selection to the jury of 12 people and six alternates.

Sand decided to close the suppression hearing to the public and media at the request of attorneys on both sides. Defense attorneys said it would be improper to reveal the substance of what they want suppressed; prosecutors added that some testimony could endanger witnesses.

"The consequences of inadvertent disclosure in this case are real and grave not only in terms of potential to impact on the fairness of the future trial but potentially national security," Sand said.

He agreed to make available a redacted court transcript the morning after each court session.

Last month during an open suppression hearing, an FBI agent testified he had read al-'Owhali his rights in English but al-'Owhali agreed to talk because he felt "America is my enemy and Kenya is not" and he wanted "what I have done and why I have done it to be aired in American courtroom."

Al-'Owhali also provided what he called "blue-chip" information, the agent said without specification. A subsequent defense document filed with the court states that al-'Owhali had discussed "a possible attack in Yemen."

Investigators looking into the October bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others, suspect Islamic militants led by bin Laden were responsible.

Al-'Owhali is one of two embassy bombing defendants who could be sentenced to death if convicted. The other is alleged Tanzania embassy bomber Khlafan Khamis Mohamed.

The two other men on trial -- alleged Kenya embassy bomber Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and former bin Laden associate Wadih el Hage -- face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.



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RELATED SITES:
Links to United States Embassies and Consulates Worldwide
Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999
FBI Websites Document Evidence Against Bin Laden
Dept of State/International Information Programs:
Ussamah Bin Laden
US District Court, Southern District of New York
U.S. State Department - Counterterrorism
Terrorism Research Center
Africa News on the World Wide Web


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