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Embassy bombing defense targets witness

El-Hage attorney Sam Schmidt questions government witness Al-Fadl, whose face cannot be shown. Judge Leonard Sand looks on.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The defense sought Tuesday to undermine the credibility of a key government witness in the federal trial of four men accused of taking part in a conspiracy that led to the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Sam Schmidt, an attorney for Wadih el Hage, took his turn cross-examining Jamal Al-Fadl, who had identified el Hage as an associate of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi expatriate accused of masterminding the bombings, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

El Hage, a 40-year-old naturalized American from Lebanon, is one of four men on trial for the August 1998 bombings of U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The government has charged bin Laden with masterminding the attacks and with leading a decade-long conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and destroy U.S. property abroad.

graphic CASE FILE
Shattered Diplomacy: The U.S. Embassy Bombings Trial
An in-depth special report on the trial of four men charged with the embassy bombings
Trial reports | Timeline | Key Figures
Testimony of witnesses Al-Ridi and Juma (PDF)
Documents in PDF format require Adobe Acrobat Reader for viewing.
graphic  ALSO
Questionnaires yield portrait of bombings trial jury (February 8)
Embassy bombing trial

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El Hage has admitted working for bin Laden's companies when they were based in Sudan in the early 1990s, but el Hage maintains that his business activities were legitimate and that he did not engage in violent acts.

Al-Fadl admitted for the first time on Tuesday that he had twice betrayed bin Laden -- spying on him for Sudan's government and discussing a plan to assassinate bin Laden with Saudi Arabia's government after Al-Fadl split with the leader in 1996.

Al-Fadl, in three previous days of testimony, described el Hage's role in the Sudan office of those companies, and gave a history of bin Laden's companies and his alleged terrorist group, al Qaeda.

Schmidt elicited further detail from Al-Fadl on bin Laden's business activities, ranging from trade of agricultural products such as sugar and sesame seeds to various construction projects.

"There was an awful lot of business going on in the bin Laden businesses," Schmidt said.

"Yes," Al-Fadl replied, adding that el Hage's U.S. passport made him valuable because it made his business travel easier.

Later, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked Al-Fadl is there wasn't "an awful lot of work that you considered military going on?" Al-Fadl said there was: moving weapons, explosives, training, seeking components for nuclear and chemical weapons.

Al-Fadl had testified that he was aware of el Hage's activities in 1993 and 1994 in Sudan and that he knew him personally. But under questioning from Schmidt, the witness could not say which of el Hage's arms is disabled, which hand he writes with, nor could he name el Hage's seven children.

Throughout his cross-examination, Schmidt suggested that Al-Fadl had given an incomplete account of his nine years working with bin Laden. While Al-Fadl, a 37-year-old Sudanese, has told the court he worked a time for Sudan's government, he disclosed on Tuesday that his role included spying on bin Laden.

"Anything that happens in our group, I tell them," he said.

Al-Fadl has testified that he left the group and fled Sudan in 1996 after embezzling $110,000 from bin Laden. Under cross-examination, Al-Fadl testified that he "hated" the country's ruling National Islamic Front, though he hadn't previously disclosed his political views as a reason for leaving.

Schmidt portrayed Al-Fadl as shopping for support in building opposition to the National Islamic Front, as Al-Fadl described travels to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Lebanon. In Lebanon, Al-Fadl said he put together a bin Laden-related book deal -- which he said fell through after the publisher got too greedy. In Saudi Arabia, Al-Fadl conversed with Saudi intelligence to "liquidate" his former leader.

"You gave the Saudis a proposal to assassinate bin Laden, didn't you?," Schmidt asked.

Al-Fadl testified such a plan was discussed, but he didn't make clear who originated the idea, which did not go forward.

"I don't trust what they want me to do," Al-Fadl told the court.

Schmidt pressed Al-Fadl on how he could tell U.S. investigators he had served as bin Laden's "chief of security" for the better part of a year.

"That was a lie, wasn't it?," Schmidt said.

"No," Al-Fadl replied, adding that he was a bin Laden bodyguard and did background checks on his associates.

Schmidt also asked Al-Fadl if he had overstated his acquaintance with convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, telling investigators he had "trained" with him in Afghan mujahadeen camps in the 1980s. Al-Fadl admitted that while he and Yousef attended one military camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border at the same time, they never spoke to one another.

Schmidt implied that Al-Fadl had inflated his role with al Qaeda to enter the good graces of U.S. officials, who have kept him in protective custody in the U.S. for the past five years at a cost of nearly $1 million.

Fitzgerald on Tuesday got Al-Fadl to confirm that three-quarters of those witness protection program costs have covered medical bills and documents costs.

Along with el Hage, Mohamed al'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi, and Mohamed Odeh, a 35-year-old Jordanian, also are being tried on charges that they took part in the Kenya bombing. Khalfan Mohamed, a 27-year-old Tanzanian, is being tried on charges that he took part in the Tanzania bombing.

The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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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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