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Jurors hear bin Laden threats to kill Americans

bin Laden

February 15, 2001
Web posted at: 9:20 p.m. EST (0220 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The United States contends the 1998 twin bombings of its embassies in East Africa were part of a conspiracy led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden to kill Americans, attack U.S. military facilities, and destroy government property. On Thursday, the jury in a federal trial of four men accused of taking part in that conspiracy heard the government's prime evidence of bin Laden's alleged intent -- a reading of the Saudi exile's 1996 declaration of jihad, or holy war, against the U.S.

One of the four defendants said that he was not aware of bin Laden's violent declaration until he saw a CNN story about it the following year. The jury heard that claim, too, as 1997 grand jury testimony by former bin Laden associate Wadih el Hage was read into the court record on Thursday. In that testimony, however, el Hage admitted a connection to the World Trade Center bombers.

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First, for nearly an hour, the three assistant U.S. attorneys handling the case took turns reading the text of bin Laden's August 23, 1996 fatwah, or religious opinion, that runs 52-pages in English translation from its original publication in an Arabic newspaper. (The attorneys had read the first 15 pages before court had adjourned on Wednesday).

Steeped in references to the Koran and precepts of Islam, the fatwah targets America for deploying troops in bin Laden's native Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-dominated countries in the Persian Gulf, Africa, and the Middle East.

"After faith there is no more important duty than pushing the American occupier out," bin Laden stated. "It is a total obligation upon everyone, because a hostile enemy who spoils life and religion has to be pushed back," he said.

Bin Laden called on Muslims of different backgrounds to unite against the "greatest evil in control of Muslim lands" and stated that one way to please Allah, or God, "is to fight the enemy."

The American deployment of troops to the Saudi peninsula began on August 7, 1990, shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bin Laden opposed the move, having hoped Saudi King Fahd would employ Islamic fighters like him who were seasoned by the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union. Bin Laden was outraged that largely non-Islamic American soldiers were used to protect his oil-rich country, home to the holiest of all Muslim shrines, in Mecca and Medina.

"The land of the two Holy Places represents an important economic power in the Islamic world because it has the biggest oil reserve in the world," bin Laden stated. "We strongly warn the United States of America, the aggressor, not to destroy this Islamic resource once the war is over."

Bin Laden called for Muslims to boycott American goods to help the jihad, but he focused on paramilitary action.

'Kill it, fight it, destroy it'

"Fast and light forces must be used and must operate in absolute secrecy," bin Laden stated. "All effort must be directed at this enemy, kill it, fight it, destroy it, break it down, plot against it, ambush it, and God the almighty willing, until it is gone."

The federal indictment charges bin Laden and his followers with first striking against U.S. servicemen in Somalia, where 18 Army rangers died in an October 1993 ambush in the capital of Mogadishu. The charges allege that bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, trained and equipped the men who carried out the attack.

"Your biggest humiliation was in Somalia," the fatwah said, addressing the U.S. "You took your dead ones and left behind a trail of shame, loss, and nightmare."

Bin Laden's fatwah extols martyrdom, saying, "the most honorable death is to be killed in the sake of God." He described as "heroes" the four men beheaded by the Saudi government for the November 1995 car bomb that killed seven people at a U.S. military building in Riyadh.

El Hage, who worked for bin Laden companies in Sudan in the early 1990's, stated in his 1997 grand jury testimony that he first met the leader in 1986 in Pakistan. But, el Hage said, unlike bin Laden, he never fought in Afghanistan and worked only in a bin Laden-financed office servicing refugees.

El Hage stated he had not seen bin Laden in person anywhere since he left Sudan 1994 and had spoken to him only once, about buying spare parts for tractors. The government considers that a lie and alleges el Hage helped manage bin Laden's Nairobi, Kenya cell through 1997.

El Hage was living in Arlington, Texas, when the embassy bombings occurred on August 7, 1998 -- the eighth anniversary of the U.S. troop arrival in Saudi Arabia. The bombings, allegedly masterminded by bin Laden, killed 224 people in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

El Hage also said he never heard bin Laden say he was targeting the United States or that it was an enemy of Islam until CNN broadcast its March 1997 report.

"He said that the regime in Saudi was corrupt and they have to change it but it is being protected by the United States troops," el Hage recalled bin Laden as saying. "So in order to correct that regime, we have to ask the American troops to leave, and if they don't leave in peace, then they will have to do some military actions to make them leave," el Hage recalled.

In other grand jury testimony, El Hage admitted knowing Mahmud Abouhalima, the Egypytian-born New York City cab driver convicted of organizing the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The two men had met in Pakistan and once again back in the U.S. El Hage said in 1989 he bought guns for Abouhalima, including one AK-47, so he could train men joining the fight in Afghanistan. But el Hage also testified Abouhalima never took delivery of the guns.

El Hage acknowledged knowing two other convicted terrorists -- Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Islamic fundamentalist cleric, and Sayyid Nosair, a Rahman follower. Both are serving life sentences for plotting to blow up New York landmarks. The embassy bombings trial resumes next Tuesday, February 20.

El Hage, a 40-year-old naturalized American from Lebanon, is not accused of direct participation in the bombings. But his three co-defendants are: 24-year-old Saudi Mohamed al'Owhali, 27-year-old Tanzanian Khalfan Mohamed, and 35-year-old Jordanian Mohamed Odeh.

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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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