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Trial date set for alleged bin Laden aide

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim appears in federal court early last year.  

By Phil Hirschkorn
CNN's New York Bureau

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal judge Monday set an April trial date for a Sudanese man the government alleges is the highest-ranking aide to terrorist Osama bin Laden in U.S. custody.

Prosecutors say Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, 43, was a co-founder of al Qaeda, the Islamic militant group led by bin Laden.

He is charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of a jail guard November 1, 2000, while awaiting trial with four other defendants for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000 others.

A jury last May convicted the other men, who have been sentenced to life in prison.

Salim is not accused of a direct role in the embassy bombings, but he is charged with terror conspiracy charges that could bring a life sentence.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts set April 10 as the starting date of the stabbing trial. Attorneys said the trial should last about two weeks, excluding jury selection.

Salim's attorney, Richard Lind, said he would file a motion to move the trial from New York.

CNN Special: Shattered Diplomacy The embassy bombings trial 

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He said a survey conducted for him by a California law professor found that roughly 60 percent of New Yorkers felt personally affected by the September 11 attacks, about triple the rate in other cities. The United States blames al Qaeda for the attacks.

Lind also asked that Salim be moved during his pretrial detention from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, the federal jail in Manhattan.

Allegedly managed al Qaeda finances

Salim was born in Sudan and grew up in Iraq. According to prosecutors, he was in charge of al Qaeda's financial affairs when the group was based in Sudan in the early 1990s.

He is also accused of managing Wadi Aqiq, bin Laden's umbrella company that procured communications equipment and conventional weapons for the organization.

Prosecutors say Salim later managed al Qaeda's military camps in Afghanistan and lectured recruits that American troops do not belong on Arab lands.

Salim was known among al Qaeda members as "Abu Hajer al Iraqi" and was considered a religious scholar.

According to the embassy bombings indictment, Salim taught followers that U.N. forces deployed in Somalia in 1993 represented a U.S. plan to attack Muslims.

The government has alleged that Somali tribes trained by bin Laden's followers caused the deaths of 17 U.S. Army Rangers in an October 1993 battle in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Salim claims he severed ties with bin Laden in the mid-1990s, moved his family to Dubai, and tried to establish Arabic language religious radio stations in Sudan, Cyprus and Germany.

Investigators arrested him in Bavaria, Germany, in September 1998. Salim was extradited from Germany three months later, after U.S. prosecutors guaranteed he would not face the death penalty.

Jailhouse stabbing

Prosecutors allege that Salim jabbed a sharpened comb, purchased in the MCC commissary, into the eye of corrections officer Louis Pepe. Pepe was blinded in the eye, paralyzed in half of his body, and rendered unable to speak clearly.

The jail no longer sells combs to inmates.

The attack, prosecutors allege, was part of a plan to take guards hostage and escape from the jail.

FBI agents have said in court testimony they found threatening notes in Salim's cell that bore at least one fingerprint from Salim.

"We are the Muslims who were falsly [sic] accused of bombing the embassy in Africa," began one English note. An Arabic note referred to "the guard," "handling and identifying the keys," "luring the hunt and opening the door for him."

Salim is still awaiting trial on the embassy bombing conspiracy charges along with four other defendants in U.S. or British custody. Bin Laden and 12 other suspects are still at large.




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