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Prosecutors say defendant lied about bin Laden

el Hage
Wadih el Hage  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors, winding down their embassy bombings conspiracy case, are focusing on perjury charges against one defendant, Wadih el Hage.

On Monday they showed the jury documents that seemed to link el Hage with another trial defendant, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, whom el Hage has denied knowing.

Monday was the second trial day in a row prosecutors spent mainly presenting evidence that el Hage lied to a grand jury and FBI agents during questioning in 1997 and 1998.

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El Hage, an admitted former business associate of accused terrorist and Saudi expatriate Osama bin Laden, was arrested shortly after his second round of grand jury testimony in September 1998.

El Hage, 40, a Lebanese-born naturalized American, and his three co-defendants are accused of participating in a decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property.

The alleged bin Laden-led conspiracy included the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured more than 4,500 others.

El Hage is not accused of a direct role in the bombings. But Odeh, a 36-year-old Jordanian, and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi, are accused of carrying out the Kenya bombing. Defendant Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a 27-year-old Tanzanian, is accused in the attack on the embassy in Tanzania.

The 308-count indictment levies 21 counts of perjury and of making false statements against el Hage, mainly for how he explained his relationship with bin Laden and several of his associates.

For example, el Hage told the grand jury he had no contact with and had not transmitted messages for bin Laden since 1994, when el Hage left the Sudan and stopped working for bin Laden's companies.

But prosecutors have showed the jury a trail of letters, faxes and phone calls traced to el Hage that suggest he maintained contact with several bin Laden associates he denied knowing, and that el Hage had possessed and passed on bin Laden's satellite telephone number.

El Hage told the grand jury that he did not know bin Laden's military commander, Mohamed Atef, by a code name, "Taysir." But FBI crime lab specialist Mitchell Hallars testified Monday that el Hage fingerprints are on a letter that refers to Taysir.

"Taysir and his friends are still hiking, they enjoy it very much," said el Hage's handwritten letter from January 1996.

Later, in a move possibly connecting two trial defendants, prosecutors showed the jury a document written to Kenya's fisheries office that assigned control of a boat in el Hage's name to someone named Mohamed "Olideh," almost a match for Odeh, who did run a fishing boat near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa.

Prosecutors have also introduced shipping receipts that show a "Wadih Hage" in Nairobi sent a "Mohammed Oudeh" in Mombasa three packages during 1995.

El Hage, who lived in Nairobi from 1994 to 1997, told the grand jury and an FBI agent he never knew Odeh and could not identify his photograph.

One prosecution witness, L'Housaine Kherchtou, a defector from bin Laden's Islamic militant group, al Qaeda, has testified that el Hage and Odeh were acquainted in Kenya.

El Hage told the grand jury he also did not know Ali Mohamed, an Egyptian-born former U.S. Army sergeant who pleaded guilty last October to the same terror conspiracy charges the four trial defendants face.

Mohamed, who led firearms and explosives training in bin Laden's military camps, told the court during his plea that he engaged in surveillance of the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, as early as 1993, after bin Laden picked it as a target, and he implicated el Hage as a Kenya cell operative.

Prosecutors, relying on evidence from a 1998 raid of Mohamed's California home, alleged he and el Hage maintained a correspondence. They showed the jury that each man kept phone and fax numbers for the other in their respective address books.

The prosecution, now in its eighth week of testimony, is expected to rest next week.

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Agent: Defendant called Kenya attack a 'blunder'
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U.S. State Department
 •  International Information Programs:
 •  Counterterrorism
 •  Links to United States Embassies and Consulates Worldwide
Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999
FBI Websites Document Evidence Against Bin Laden
Ussamah Bin Laden
US District Court, Southern District of New York
Terrorism Research Center
Africa News on the World Wide Web

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