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Defense rests in embassy bombings trial

 

NEW YORK (CNN) -- After two weeks, defense attorneys rested their case Monday for four men accused of participating in a terrorist conspiracy to kill Americans worldwide; a conspiracy the U.S. government alleges included the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

None of the four defendants testified, and only two called witnesses on their behalf.

El Hage, 40, a naturalized American from Lebanon, indicated a desire to testify last week but on Monday he told the court he had decided not to. El Hage is not accused of a direct role in the embassy bombings, but he is alleged to have facilitated the East African cell that carried out the attacks.

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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
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Army helicopter pilot's testimony about Somalia battle
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tease Images from the U.S. embassy bombing in Tanzania
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Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, from Saudi Arabia, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, from Jordan, allegedly participated in the Kenya embassy attack, in which 213 people died, including 12 Americans, and more than 4,500 people were injured on August 7, 1998.

Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, from Tanzania, allegedly participated in the Tanzania attack, in which 11 people died and more than 85 were injured the same day.

Neither al-'Owhali nor Mohamed, who could face the death penalty, mounted a defense.

The defendants were allegedly following orders of Osama bin Laden, the multimillionaire Saudi exile based in Afghanistan. Bin Laden leads an Islamic militant group, al Qaeda, which the U.S. government blames for the embassy bombings and suspects in other violent acts aimed at Americans during the past decade.

Government prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office took nine weeks to present their evidence and more than 90 witnesses to the jury. They are expected to spend two and a half days on their closing arguments, starting Tuesday.

Each defense team predicts it will need about half a day for closing arguments.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand's instructions to the jury are expected to occur during next week, followed by jury deliberations. The jury will not be sequestered.

The judge and the trial attorneys are still revising the final list of charges the jury will consider, simplifying what was a 308-count indictment and streamlining more than 150 overt acts alleged in the main conspiracy count.

The indictment includes five broad terror conspiracy counts, 224 murder counts -- one for each bomb victim -- and more than a dozen perjury counts against el Hage.

Prosecutors last week dropped the allegation that al Qaeda was directly to blame for the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers in an October 1993 battle in Mogadishu, Somalia -- the only lethal overt act alleged in the conspiracy prior to the embassy bombings.

But the government still maintains al Qaeda trained Somalis in military skills such as firing rocket-propelled grenades at helicopters like the U.S. Black Hawks shot down during the Mogadishu battle.

If convicted on the terror conspiracy charges, el Hage and Odeh could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison without parole.

The jury would sit through a shorter, second trial -- a penalty phase -- to decide whether capital punishment would be imposed on al-'Owhali and Mohamed.

Sand has decided to hold separate death penalty phases, if needed, with al-'Owhali's going first.

Sand has also admonished jurors to avoid reading or watching stories about the impending execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, scheduled for May 16, when this jury is likely to be deliberating.



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RELATED SITES:
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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