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Ex-copter pilot can't link bin Laden to Somalia

Former helicopter pilot James Yacone: "I am not really sure who was training Aidid's group."  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A former U.S. Army helicopter pilot testified Monday that he could not confirm prosecutors' contention that the same group allegedly behind the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa also trained Somalia fighters who killed 18 U.S. soldiers nearly eight years ago.

A defense witness later told the jury that Arabic is a common language in Somalia, especially among the military, undermining the prosecution's contention that intercepted enemy commands in Arabic were evidence of outside training.

The defense witness also told the jury that battle-tested Somali fighters were trained and armed well enough on their own.

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James Yacone, who flew one of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in the mission to capture lieutenants of Somali tribal leader Mohammed Farrah Aidid, testified for the government. But on cross-examination, Yacone failed to make a direct link between Osama bin Laden's Islamic militant group and the training of Aidid's men.

"I am not really sure who was training Aidid's group," Yacone said.

The U.S. troops had been deployed in 1992 to assist a U.N. mission distributing supplies and restoring order to the war-torn nation. The United Nations sought to arrest Aidid and his men after they ambushed and killed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in June.

A federal indictment accuses bin Laden and 21 others of involvement in a terrorist conspiracy to kill Americans dating back to the early 1990s. The alleged military training of Somalis is among more than 150 acts described in the main conspiracy count.

Four men named in that indictment have been on trial in New York since January, accused of roles in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania -- the culmination of the alleged conspiracy. The two truck bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, a Jordanian national, is the only defendant directly implicated in Somalia. Odeh is one of seven known members of bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, who allegedly trained Somali tribes.

The three other defendants are Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, a Saudi; Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian; and Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American.

Yacone piloted one of eight Black Hawks deployed in the October 1993 mission to arrest Aidid's lieutenants as they met in Mogadishu. Yacone dropped off some of the rangers used to execute the plan.

"We started receiving enemy fire almost immediately after the insertion," Yacone said. "We had no idea we would receive that volume of fire."

He said he saw one of the other Black Hawks shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG -- a 2-foot-long, shoulder-fired missile typically used against armored vehicles.

"The focus of the mission shifted from capturing Aidid's lieutenants to assisting the downed helicopter crew," Yacone said.

A second chopper was also shot down, Yacone said, and three other helicopters, including his, made emergency landings after being hit by RPGs.

Yacone said hundreds of RPGs were fired during the battle, which started in the afternoon and went into the following morning. He said the RPGs were fired to detonate in the air, sending shrapnel in several directions to damage the choppers.

"To fire them accurately, you probably have to get some training," Yacone said.

Yacone said U.S. intelligence agents intercepted radio instructions for mortar fire transmitted in Arabic to Somali fighters.

"It led intelligence people to tell us there may be other people here training Aidid's clan," Yacone said. But he said he had no knowledge of who those trainers might have been.

Abdi Samatar, a Somalia expert from the University of Minnesota testifying for the defense, told the jury that Arabic is commonly spoken in Somalia for Koranic studies and for most students starting in the first grade. The country is 95 percent Muslim.

Samatar added that Arabic was the primary language of Somalia's army, whose enlisted men and officers underwent training in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iraq.

Before the outbreak of civil war in 1990, the Somali army had as many as 90,000 enlistees and was considered among the best forces on the African continent, Samatar said.

Abdi Samatar
University professor Abdi Samatar testified that Somalis begin learning the language of the Koran -- Arabic -- in the first grade.  

Until the overthrow of military dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, led by Aidid, the Somali military had benefited from arms and training from the Soviet Union and then the United States, the nation playing both sides in the Cold War.

El Hage defense attorney Joshua Dratel asked Samatar whether the Somali fighters would require outside training.

"Not in my opinion," Samatar said.

He said that the military had been well stocked with RPGs and tanks and that the population, in the midst of a civil war, was well armed.

"I don't know of a single household ... that doesn't have a gun," Samatar said.

Despite the casualties, a memo by Maj. Gen. William Garrison, the commanding officer, called the action on October 3, 1993, "a success."

"The targeted individuals were captured," Garrison wrote.

More than 500 Somalis died as a result of the battle.

Aidid died in 1996. His son Hussein succeeded him as tribal leader and de facto president, although Somalia had no central government until last year. A peace-brokered parliament installed last summer elected a new president, Abdiqasim Salad Hasan, to a transitional three-year term.

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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

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