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Prosecutor denounces defendants in bombings trial

Karas
Prosecutor Ken Karas sums up his case as defendants Khalfan Khamis Mohamed and Mohamed al-'Owhali look on.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The prosecution completed its closing argument Thursday, asking the jury to return a guilty verdict in the case of four men accused of roles in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

"It is time for the defendants to be held accountable for what they have done," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Karas.

"People can be held accountable for their actions because all individuals have the capacity to choose," he said. "The defendants chose to pursue criminal conduct that is charged in this case."

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Karas said the four were not forced to act, nor did they act out of "blind allegiance to any oath" to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile who leads al Qaeda, the Islamic militant group at the heart of an alleged conspiracy to kill Americans worldwide.

"[They] hated, targeted and killed people merely because of their nationality and religion," Karas said.

He spent just over two days summing up the government's case against Wadih el Hage, 40, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27.

Al-'Owhali, from Saudi Arabia, and Odeh, from Jordan, are accused of participating in the attack on the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in which 213 people, including 12 Americans, died and more than 4,500 people were injured on August 7, 1998.

Mohamed, from Tanzania, allegedly participated in the attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in which 11 people died and more than 85 were injured the same day.

El Hage, a naturalized American from Lebanon, is not accused of a direct role in the embassy bombings, but he is alleged to have aided the East African cell that carried out the attacks.

Karas
Karas: "[They] hated, targeted and killed people merely because of their nationality and religion."  

The government contends the bombings were the culmination of the al Qaeda conspiracy.

In the last hour of his summation, Karas focused on the evidence supporting 18 perjury counts against el Hage. Those counts resulted from el Hage's two appearances before a federal grand jury investigating bin Laden's organization.

Karas reviewed evidence that el Hage allegedly lied about his contacts with bin Laden, two of his military commanders, the leader of his London cell and one of his operatives who has already pleaded guilty to terrorism conspiracy charges similar to those the four defendants face in this trial.

Karas went over letters, phone call records and transcripts of wiretapped phone calls that he said establish those continuing contacts.

He finished by reminding jurors of evidence that indicates a link between el Hage and fellow defendant Odeh. That evidence includes a wiretapped phone call of Odeh speaking on el Hage's line, and documents showing that Odeh used el Hage's Nairobi post office box as his own address.

"El Hage knows who Odeh is," Karas said. El Hage denied the connection during grand jury testimony in September 1998, six weeks after the embassy bombings. "He's lying to protect al Qaeda from an American investigation," Karas said.

El Hage's attorney, Sam Schmidt, began his closing arguments when Karas finished. He will be followed by defense attorneys for the other three defendants.

Sam Schmidt
El Hage attorney Sam Schmidt: "The government has taken dots that don't have numbers and connected them to a picture they want to connect."  

Schmidt said that despite all the documents presented by the government, "Not a single piece of evidence points to Mr. el Hage ever agreeing to join a conspiracy to kill Americans, to destroy American property, or maim or injure the same people."

Schmidt went on to say that el Hage never made a conscious decision to kill Americans and none of the government's circumstantial evidence proves it.

"There is nothing in 15 months of intercepted facsimiles and telephone calls," Schmidt said. He said el Hage made "bayat," or an oath to America, not to al Qaeda, by becoming a citizen of the United States.

"The government has taken dots that don't have numbers and connected them to a picture they want to connect," he said.

Schmidt said that although el Hage was not a warrior himself, he did believe in jihad, a philosophy shared by Islamic fighters in places such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Tajikistan.

"He believed in the struggle that is jihad, that is personal in one's self and to help other Muslims," Schmidt said.

But "there is nothing to prove that Wadih el Hage agreed to kill Americans," Schmidt said.



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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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