FBI agent: Bombing defendant admitted ties to bin Laden
NEW YORK (CNN) -- By his own admission, defendant Wadih el Hage knew Osama bin Laden personally and left his employment on very good terms, an FBI agent testified Tuesday in U.S. federal court.
El Hage is one of four men on trial for the alleged terrorist conspiracy behind the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Authorities believe el Hage is a high-ranking personal assistant of bin Laden and who put together the Kenya terrorist cell network.
FBI agent Robert Miranda testified about his interview of el Hage two weeks after the embassy bombings killed 224 people in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The interview occurred in Arlington, Texas, where el Hage and his wife April lived with their seven children.
"He said he didn't know anything about who was responsible for the bombings," Miranda testified. "He did not think Osama bin Laden was responsible, because Osama bin Laden was a humanitarian."
"He agreed with the statement I made: If bin Laden had done this, it was not right to attack innocent people," Miranda said, adding that el Hage understood bin Laden's hatred of the United States stemmed from U.S. troop presence in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, and its support of Israel. Bin Laden is a Saudi native.
"Bin Laden had the resources to make the world live according to the Koran," Miranda recalled el Hage saying.
The interview was the second time el Hage sat down with the FBI, and in each instance el Hage minimized his relationship with bin Laden, according to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
A month after the interview, el Hage was arrested and charged with making false statements to investigators and committing perjury before a grand jury hearing evidence about bin Laden's operations.
El Hage worked for bin Laden companies from 1992 to 1994 in Sudan. His American passport was an asset enabling him to travel freely and buy things, Miranda said. El Hage told him he had lost contact with bin Laden after el Hage left Sudan.
When el Hage lived in Kenya from 1995-97, he told Miranda, he did not know anyone there who was associated with bin Laden, including fellow trial defendant Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, an alleged Kenya embassy bomber. An earlier trial witness, a defector from bin Laden's organization, testified that el Hage and Odeh were acquainted.
El Hage claimed not to know any bin Laden associates in Tanzania or the United States, Miranda said.
Prosecutors, seeking to undermine el Hage's professed ignorance, introduced more evidence Tuesday to show connections between el Hage and other known bin Laden conspirators, chief among them, Ali Mohamed, an Egyptian-born, a former U.S. Army sergeant who pleaded guilty to participating in bin Laden's alleged conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. government property.
FBI agent Michael Ernst told jurors about a 1998 search of Mohamed's northern California home. Ernst found in Mohamed's address book a fax number apparently for el Hage. On the last page, above the number, is an Arabic symbol which translates as "Wadieh," Ernst said.
El Hage's own address book, seized in a 1997 search of his Kenyan home, also included a contact number for Mohamed.
Mohamed's computer files shown to the jury included a detailed report about the 1996 Lake Victoria, Africa, ferryboat accident that drowned more than 100 people, including bin Laden's former military commander. Prosecutors say el Hage wrote that report.
Prosecutors also tried to link el Hage to bin Laden's satellite phone, believed to be his prime method of communication as the Saudi exile lives as a fugitive in Afghanistan.
Marilyn Morelli, who works for a New York-based satellite network, testified about selling a $7,500 satellite phone and hundreds of minutes in calling time in early 1997.
El Hage can be heard giving out the phone number for that satellite phone in an April 1997 wiretapped telephone conversation from his Kenya home. The recipient on the other end was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a co-worker in el Hage's relief agencies, but also the fugitive prosecutors consider the ground leader of the Kenya embassy bombing.
El Hage is accused of terrorist conspiracy but, unlike his three co-defendants, he is not accused of a direct role in either embassy bombing.
With testimony Monday about the confession of Khalfan Khamis Mohamed of the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tanzania, prosecutors appeared to complete their presentation of direct evidence on the attacks.
They'll likely focus their remaining weeks on the terror conspiracy charges and el Hage's perjury charges.
FBI agent: Accused called bombings 'a message to America'
U.S. State Department
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