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Defendants' alleged roles in bombings downplayed

Mohamed al-'Owhali, Fred Cohn
Fred Cohn tells the jury his client Mohamed al-'Owhali "was the most minor participant" in the Kenya bombing.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Attorneys for the two men who could be sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa delivered closing arguments to a federal jury Tuesday.

Neither attorney -- for Mohamed al-'Owhali, accused in the Kenya bombing, or for Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, charged in the Tanzania bombing -- quarreled much with the government's evidence, which includes incriminating post-arrest statements by each defendant. But both attorneys sought to minimize their clients' alleged roles in the attacks.

"I would be surprised if there were two of you in this jury box that did not at least surmise and assume that Mr. al-'Owhali is guilty," said Fred Cohn, his attorney.

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"I am not going to stand here and contend that there is evidence, or lack of evidence, in the case that he did participate in the bombing," Cohn said. However, he added, "Mohamed was the most minor participant in this event."

The truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998, killed 213 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 4,500 others. Minutes later, 415 miles away at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, another truck bomb exploded, killing 11 people and injuring more than 85 others.

Al-'Owhali, in statements to the FBI after his arrest in Nairobi five days following the bombing, admitted riding in the passenger seat of the bomb truck and lobbing homemade stun grenades at embassy security guards so the truck could get closer to the building.

But Cohn told the jury those statements were "involuntary," resulting after his client had spent 10 days in isolation in a Kenyan jail.

"Mohamed was kept in terrible conditions in fear for his life by jailers ... who had to hate him," Cohn said.

K.K. Mohamed, David Ruhnke
David Ruhnke says his client K.K. Mohamed did only "manual labor, always under the direction of others" on the assembly of the Tanzania bomb.  

David Ruhnke, the attorney for Mohamed, also took issue with his client's statements to the FBI, made after his arrest in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 1999. The statements were not recorded, according to FBI policy.

"The FBI is stuck in the 19th century in terms of taking down information from important witnesses," Ruhnke said. "You can by a tape recorder for $25."

Nuances of translation -- Mohamed speaks Swahili -- and inflection are lost, Ruhnke said.

"The government would rather have you hear it from the FBI than hear it as it happened," he said.

The physical evidence showed that Mohamed purchased a jeep allegedly used to ferry bomb materials to a Dar es Salaam house rented by Mohamed where the Tanzania bomb was allegedly built. Ruhnke said other conspirators gave Mohamed the money for the vehicle and house.

Ruhnke described that TNT residue found on Mohamed's clothing as "submolecular quantities" and told the jury that Mohamed did only "manual labor, always under the direction of others, on the assembly of the bomb."

Both Cohn and Ruhnke argued that in spite of their clients' alleged roles in the bombings, neither defendant was a true member of an alleged, decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans that the government says was led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.

Neither defendant belonged to bin Laden's Islamic militant group, al Qaeda, which was formed, according to the government's chronology, when al-'Owhali was 12 and Mohamed was 15.

The conspiracy "is existing long before he becomes aware of it," Ruhnke said, adding that Mohamed never met bin Laden or heard him speak, although he and his group "share the same feelings."

Mohamed, like al-'Owhali, did receive training in Afghanistan military camps funded by bin Laden "to learn how to help other Muslims, if necessary, in armed struggle," Ruhnke said. He told jurors Mohamed thought he might be sent to places like Somalia and Bosnia.

Neither defendant knew about the embassy bombings they would have a role in until very late in the planning, their attorneys argued.

Cohn said al-'Owhali did not know about the Nairobi target until four days before, and the only person he reported to was the truck's driver, who died in the explosion.

Ruhnke said Mohamed had agreed to do a "jihad job" in the spring of 1998 but he did not know what TNT was or where the embassy was in Dar es Salaam.

Al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi, and Mohamed, a 27-year-old Tanzanian, were the last of four men on trial to offer closing arguments.

Attorneys for Mohamed Odeh, a 36-year-old Jordanian accused in the Kenya bombing, and Wadih el Hage, 40, a Lebanese-born American accused of being a terrorism conspirator, finished their arguments Monday.

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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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