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Witness says bin Laden wanted to buy uranium

Informant names alleged conspirators in U.S. embassy bombings trial

Prosecutor Paul Butler, right, and defendants, seated from right: Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed and Wadih el Hage  

February 7, 2001
Web posted at: 11:21 AM EST (1621 GMT)

Student News Archive

The key informant in the U.S. government's case against four men accused of bombing American embassies in Africa took the stand in federal court in New York this week, naming alleged conspirators and connecting the bombings with Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden. The witness also testified that he once attempted to purchase uranium, a key component in nuclear weapons, for bin Laden. Federal prosecutors said that bin Laden's organization, al-Qaeda, systematically planned acts of violence and terrorism against Americans worldwide.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- In his second day of testimony, a key government witness in the trial of four men accused of conspiracy in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa said he had once attempted to purchase uranium for Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the bombings.

The witness, Jamal Ahmed Mohamed Al-Fadl, described a 1994 effort to buy uranium for al-Qaeda, the organization led by bin Laden, for whom Al-Fadl said he worked for nine years. Uranium is a key component in nuclear weapons.

Al-Fadl said he was told the price for the uranium, which came in a 2- to 3-foot cylinder, was $1.5 million. He said engravings on the cylinder and documents indicated the uranium's source was South Africa.

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What happened to the uranium and whether the transaction was completed was left unanswered Wednesday. The witness' last information on the deal was that al-Qaeda sought to test and verify the contents with a machine being sent from Kenya.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald then turned to another subject.

In his two days of testimony, Al-Fadl cited 10 of the alleged conspirators named in the sweeping indictment, most of whom are fugitives not on trial at this time. Bin Laden, the lead defendant, is believed to be living in Afghanistan.

Of the four men standing trial, Wadih el Hage, a naturalized American from Lebanon, was the only one identified by Al-Fadl. He described knowing el Hage, 40, as someone who worked in al-Qaeda's offices in Sudan in the early 1990s.

"We have to stop the head of the snake," Al-Fadl recalled bin Laden saying in 1993. "The snake is America and we have to stop them. We have to cut their head off and stop what they are doing in the Horn of Africa."

Bin Laden's first anti-American fatwa, or religious declaration, came at one of his weekly lectures sometime after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and U.S troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, home of the two holiest Muslim shrines in Mecca and Medina.

"We cannot let the American Army stay in the Gulf area and take our oil and take our money. We have to do something to take them out," Al-Fadl recalled bin Laden as saying.

Al-Fadl placed himself in the rooms when bin Laden and his associates issued their first declarations of violence against the United States.

Al-Fadl said Tuesday he first met bin Laden between 1988-89, when Al-Fadl, a 37-year-old native of Sudan, went to Afghanistan to join rebels fighting the Soviet Union, which had occupied the Muslim country.

Bin Laden is a key figure in this trial because prosecutors allege the four defendants were acting at his behest as part of a decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. government property.

Al-Fadl testified that he attended meetings in 1989-90 where bin Laden and others founded al-Qaeda. Asked by prosecutor Fitzgerald about the agenda of the new group, Al-Fadl said, "It's established for focusing on jihad," a declaration of a holy war.

Al-Fadl testified in English, at times calling on an Arabic translator for help.

In 1991, Al-Fadl said he moved with bin Laden to Sudan, where al-Qaeda established a new headquarters, including a farm used in part for military training. He said he earned $300 a month for his al-Qaeda work and $200 a month working for construction and import-export companies bin Laden established.
Edith Bartley (left) and Sue Bartley arrive at the U.S. District Court in New York this week. Two members of their family were killed in the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania  

Al-Fadl, in listing numerous people around the offices, named el Hage, known then by the alias "Abu Abdullah al Lubani," as on the payroll and as someone he had trained to do his job.

Bin Laden, at this time, Al-Fadl testified, began to express anti-American views. "He liked to sit in the front yard and talk about jihad," Al-Fadl said.

Al-Fadl said the group's fatwas, issued by bin Laden and others, did condone the killing of innocents, starting with al-Qaeda's reaction to the U.S. military presence in Somalia in 1993.

The indictment alleges that al-Qaeda's forces were responsible for October 1993 attacks that killed American military personnel in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Until now, Al-Fadl, one of the government's primary confidential sources, was known only as "CS-1" in court documents.

Sketch artists were forbidden from drawing his face, and U.S. marshals checked their work as they left the heavily guarded courtroom. No cameras are allowed in federal court.

Prosecutors on Monday characterized this key witness as someone who approached the U.S. government after a fallout with bin Laden over money. Al-Fadl, described as on the run from bin Laden, has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, including conspiring to attack U.S. national defense facilities, according to court documents.

The trial, presided over by U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand, kicked off with opening statements Monday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Butler said jurors would learn of a "long, complicated and chilling" story of conspiracy and terror involving the four defendants.

The August 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands.
Al-'Owhali allegedly alluded to "a possible attack in Yemen," according to a defense document filed with the court  

Jeremy Schneider, an attorney for one of the two defendants facing the death penalty, Kahlfan Khamis Mohamed, conceded Monday his client had a role in the Tanzania bombing but said he was a "pawn."

Attorneys for the other death eligible defendant, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, did not make an opening statement. "There's always a strategy to it, but now unfortunately I can't tell you what it is," attorney David Baugh said Tuesday.

The other two defendants -- Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and el Hage -- face life sentences. Their attorneys said in their opening statements that the men had ties to bin Laden but had no role in violent activity.

Al-Fadl, the first witness, told the court he lived in Saudi Arabia before coming to the United States in 1986 on a student visa. He settled in Brooklyn where he worked in a grocery store and became involved with a Brooklyn mosque that raised money and recruited Muslim men to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

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Links to U.S. embassies and consulates
Patterns of global terrorism: 1999
FBI Web sites on Bin Laden
U.S. State Department: International Information Programs
Ussamah Bin Laden
U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York
U.S. Department of State: Counterterrorism
Terrorism Research Center

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