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Jury Convicts Four on All Charges in Embassy Bombings

Aired May 29, 2001 - 13:23   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The verdicts are in, in a tightly- guarded Manhattan federal courtroom today in the embassy bombing trial. Those bombings took place in 1998. More than 200 people were killed. Four defendants were found guilty of conspiracy, as you can see there. Guilty to killing U.S. government employees using weapons of mass destruction and destroying U.S. Property. All guilty verdicts today.

The bombings, as we said, took place in Kenya, and Tanzania at the U.S. embassies there. 213 victims were killed in Kenya. 11 victims killed in Tanzania and, again, all guilty verdicts for these defendants.

Back to Bob Franken in New York. As you have said, there is more to come. We still have to find out if two of these defendants may get the death penalty and there are other -- others in custody as well who haven't even faced trial yet, related to this case; correct?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are others in custody overseas, others who are fugitives, one of the 22, who is named in the indictment of course, is Osama bin Laden. Who is the person who is charged to be, by prosecutors, to be the head of this conspiracy when he issued religious opinions that called on his followers to kill Americans anywhere possible, and as a result, said that the prosecutors with some success today resulted in these bombings in Nairobi, Kenya 10:30 in the morning August 7, 1998, and 10:40 in the morning at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania under the same conspiracy, say prosecutors.

Now probably the most high-stakes verdict have been the one against two of the defendants. The two are Mohammed al-'Owhali, he is charged of being a direct participant in the Nairobi, Kenya bombings, where 213 died and more than 4,000 were injured. That embassy being downtown in Nairobi, Kenya. He is charged with actually throwing a stun grenade at one of the guards in the embassies. He faces the death penalty.

The other one who faces the death penalty is a participant, says the jury, in the bombing in Dar es Salaam. That's Khalfan Khamis Mohamed; he is called K.K. Mohamed. He is charged with driving at least part of the way to that bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Those are the two that are facing the death penalty.

The others who are charged are Mohamed Odeh; he is charged of being a bomb expert -- acknowledges that he was part of Osama bin Laden's organization, charged with in Nairobi in a hotel, helping to construct the bomb. He acknowledged to an FBI agent that he had done that, but said he had no idea that it will be used for the purpose that it was. Of course, that argument was unsuccessful. He has been found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder of actually participating in the bombing and the -- of actually participating in the bombing, but not to the extent that would allow him to be given the death penalty. He faces life in prison.

And also charged with -- with the bombing of the embassy itself and the murder.

We are waiting for the disposition of the case of Wahid el Hage is. He has been found guilty in participating in the conspiracy and the other charges and also charged with perjury. About lying before this grand jury, about the relationship with Osama bin Laden. He is in fact, say the prosecutors, an ex-personal secretary of bin Laden who participated in the conspiracy when he lived in Nairobi, Kenya.

At the moment, he has been living in the United States. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen; he is a Lebanese-born U.S. citizen. His wife and seven children are back in Arlington, Texas, where his home is. She is here for a lot of trial.

Now let me show you just how complicated this case is. There are 213 separate charges of murder in the bombing of the Nairobi embassy. Of course, 213 deaths. It took the jury 40 minutes -- 40 minutes to get through that one count alone. 40 minutes. So you can have some idea how long this is going to take. We've already got to the point of course that we know that all four defendants have been found guilty of their participation in this bombing.

I should point out that there are actually 22 who are indicted in the case and I will say it again. One of them is Osama bin Laden.

Now, and then -- you can see over my shoulder, quite a significant police presence, the security has been remarkable, for reasons that probably don't have to be explained, because of the high tension, and the nature of the charges and the involvement, according to the prosecutors, of Osama bin Laden. You see the heavy police presence outside.

When you walk in the door, you face one of the magnetometers, which is normal of just about every federal courthouse in the country, certainly the Oklahoma City case, which is pending right now with Timothy McVeigh -- but that's a digression.

You walk in, and you face a magnetometer. What is unusual, is when you go up to the floor where the courtroom is, you have to go through a second, a second metal detector. And then between there you had to go through a fairly elaborate way of getting credentials to before your even allowed in the courtroom. There's also very strict seating.

Now, one of the presences sporadically during the trial in the courtroom is somebody who would be familiar to people who watch the news closely. It's the U.S. Attorney here. This is the woman who has become well known, particularly because of her investigation of the pardons of President Clinton, she was appointed by President Clinton, but she's been kept on. She's also an expert on terrorism, and somebody who has been quite a force in this prosecution.

I am speaking of course of the U.S. Attorney here Mary Jo White, and for a profile on her, we go to CNN's Deborah Feyerick.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She stands five feet tall and has been called "modest" and "unassuming," but never underestimate Mary Jo White.

STEVE COHEN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Mary Jo I guess exemplifies the notion that, you know, big things come in small packages.

FEYERICK: White is arguably the most powerful U.S. Attorney in the nation, driving the investigation of President Bill Clinton and others to see whether pardons and clemency were traded for money and votes.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was absolutely nothing political about it.

FEYERICK: It's not something Clinton predicted when he appointed White the first woman to head the U.S. Attorney's office in New York's Southern District nine years ago. White is a registered independent and acts like it.

JAMES KALLSTROM, FORMER FBI ASST. DIRECTOR: I never saw one instance, not one instance, where anything was done for political reasons.

FEYERICK: Which could explain why White was the only U.S. Attorney in the nation asked by the Bush team to stay on for an unspecified time. The stated reason: the U.S. Embassy bombing trial, the latest of six terrorism trials she has prosecuted, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

PAUL SHECHTMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's the success in the terrorism cases that really is the high mark of that office.

FEYERICK: But name any major case in Manhattan in the last decade and White's signature's all over it.

She's tackled major Wall Street crimes and organized crime, putting Mobster John Gotti Jr. behind bars. New York's Southern District is one of the busiest offices outside Washington. 6,500 cases were prosecuted last year. White has an overall conviction rate of 95 percent.

But critics say she is too ambitious, too far-reaching. Other critics say she's not far-reaching enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if Ron Carey didn't win, we could all lose our jobs.

FEYERICK: As in the teamster election scandal of 1996.

REP. PETER HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: There's very little evidence of Mary Jo White putting in place a process that holds anyone accountable for what went on.

FEYERICK: White never discusses active investigations. She declined CNN requests for an interview. But the 53-year-old baseball fanatic and descendant of Pocahontas gave up a partnership at a prestigious law firm for the public sector. What will she do next?

KALLSTROM: She would be a wonderful attorney general. She would be a great Supreme Court judge. If she were selling hot dogs out at Shea Stadium, she would be great at that. I think she could do anything she wanted to do.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


ALLEN: And again the defendants are guilty. This jury has had much work to do: Three months of testimony, 302-count indictment. It took them 12 days to reach these verdicts.

WATERS: And our coverage on this matter is not over yet. We are expecting to hear from attorneys and I am expecting to speak with an expert on Osama Bin Laden. Peter Bergen, a writer/journalist who has met the man in Afghanistan. We will talk to him about that aspect of the case. We will take a break. CNN LIVE TODAY will continue in a moment.


WATERS: The breaking news story we're covering at this hour is the conviction of four followers of the Osama Bin Laden. They were convicted today on charges of the nearly-simultaneous bombings in 1998 of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and buried thousand of others under pilots of tangled metal and concrete. Two of the defendants, Owhali, there and there and K. K. Mohamed, were convicted of counts that could carry the death penalty. There is a hearing on that tomorrow.

All four men, as a I mentioned, have ties to the absent lead defendant. The Saudi exile Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of this conspiracy, who now is living in Afghanistan. And we're joined once again by Peter Bergen who is a writer/journalist, a former CNN producer who has not only been to Afghanistan but has met with Osama Bin Laden.

Good to see you again, Peter. I don't know if you heard Sherry Olds, who is the mother -- or rather the mother of Sherry Olds telling us just a short while ago that this won't be over until Osama Bin Laden is taken down. Now that's a tall order, isn't it, or is it?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: Well I think it is a tall order, Lou, for the following reasons. As you may remember, two weeks after the embassy bombings in Africa, there were cruise missile strikes launched at targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, supposedly linked to Osama Bin Laden.

The attack against Sudan was against something that turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant, not a chemical weapons plant, as the United States government first thought. And the attacks on Afghanistan did Osama Bin Laden's camps, but Osama Bin Laden and the top leadership of his organization were somewhere else at time that the attacks happened.

So, you know, we've exhausted, I think, the law enforcement operation right now with this trial, to some extent. The other options of getting him either diplomatic or military. The Taliban which runs Afghanistan has made it perfectly clear that they have no intention of handing Osama Bin Laden over, and we have tried the military approach with limited success. So, I think we are sort of in a stalemate right now.

WATERS: So, earlier we were correcting ourselves in saying that Osama Bin Laden was under the protection of the Taliban. That apparently is not true -- that Osama Bin Laden is operating in Afghanistan with the approval of the Taliban. Which is it?

BERGEN: Well, I think it might be a distinction without a difference. I mean, the point is that he is there with their approval. They've said very clearly that the leader of the Taliban, a religious cleric named Mullah Omar, has said handing him over would be like leaving one of the pillars of Islam. So he's made it perfectly clear and the Taliban have made it perfectly clear in multiple meetings with the American officials and other officials from other countries that they have no intention of handing him over.

There is a slight possibility that a compromise, something similar to the Pan Am 103 thing you may remember, a trial was held in the Netherlands for two of the Libyans accused of the Pan Am 103 bombing. You can imagine a situation where a court was convened in a Muslim country with Muslim clerics that might -- that would be satisfied both American and Afghan authorities. But that's a long way off if it ever happens.

WATERS: Let's digress just for a moment and then I want to ask you about the trial as it affects Osama Bin Laden's efforts if at all. You have met with the man, what is it he's trying to accomplish?

BERGEN: Well, I think he has several purposes. The most important purpose for him is to get U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia, which for him, is the holiest land of Islam. It does obviously contain the Mecca and Medina, which are the two most holy sites in Islam. That is a view that is not uncommon in the Muslim world. A lot of people are not particularly happy about American troops in Saudi Arabia.

Those troops -- those forces are used to enforce sanctions against Iraq and conduct bombing campaigns against Iraq, again not a very popular policy in the Middle East. The difference is that unlike most people who may not like the fact that the Americans soldiers are in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia, he's calling for violence not only against American soldiers, but American civilians anywhere in the world, which is obviously a very minority view in the Muslim world.

WATERS: So, if those troops were to pull out of Saudi Arabia, would the violence stop?

BERGEN: I don't think so, because I think that he's sort of a committed revolutionary at this point. He's always been anti-American even before the troops were posted there. He's also against the United States because of his policy on Israel and Palestinian. He's also against the United States because of his policy on Iraq. So there are a lot of other things that he doesn't like the Americans for. So I think if we magically withdrew from Saudi Arabia, which I think is incredibly unlikely anyway, I don't think that his jihad against the United States would be over.

WATERS: So, what do you think the effect, if any, these convictions in Lower Manhattan might have on Bin Laden's operation, or on him personally?

BERGEN: I think, to be honest, pretty minimal. I think that the trial served two important purposes. First of all, a wealth of information about his organization came out in the indictment and the later testimony during the trial. Secondly, I think the victim's families do -- will be able to take some solace in the fact that some of the people involved were convicted.

But if you look at the four people who actually were convicted today, by even the most generous construction, they are lower to mid level members of his organization. Bin Ladin himself is at large, his military commander, his top adviser, the people who actually ran the Kenyan embassy and Tanzania attacks, the people who led those cells have disappeared. They're probably in Afghanistan.

So, you've got basically a lower level group of people, not really the upper tier who have been convicted today.

WATERS: Before we say goodbye, I'd like you to weigh in the perhaps positive effect, if any that this trial may have on the international community, especially in light of the hearings tomorrow on the death penalty, which Germany and South Africa both have weighed in already, against extraditing suspects to the United States because of that. Do you think this will have a deleterious effect on the way the international community cooperates in these acts of terrorism?

BERGEN: Well, it's quite possible. I mean, for instance, three men who are in jail in England now facing extradition to the United States on conspiracy charges -- none of them, I don't think, face the death penalty. But obviously, particularly in Europe, there are a lot of countries that are uncomfortable with America's policy on the death penalty. And we've seen with the South Africa decision that South Africa, the constitutional court, ruled that the extradition of K.K. Mohammed, who faces the death penalty, as something that is unconstitutional. What effect that has, frankly, I don't really know because I'm not a lawyer. WATERS: That probably won't hold any water in the lower Manhattan Federal Court. But, Peter Bergen, thanks so much. It's good to see you again. Peter Bergen, writer, journalist, former CNN producer and a man we call on when matters of Osama Bin Laden are before us.


WATERS: And we can report to you now that the four followers of Osama bin Laden, who had been convicted of murder and conspiracy charges in connection with the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, have now been convicted on all 302 charges against them, including not only murder and conspiracy, but attempted murder, bombing, weapons charges and some perjury charges, all 302 counts. They've been found guilty.



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