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Jury Finds Four Followers of Osama bin Laden Guilty in Embassy Bombings

Aired May 29, 2001 - 12:36   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and those viewers joining us around the world on CNN International.

Breaking news now out of New York City, where jurors in the embassy bombing trial have reached a verdict and the four defendants facing very serious charges for bombings that took place at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Let's go back to our Bob Franken, who's standing by, waiting for verdict, in New York City.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Daryn, the four are charged among 22 who are named in the indictment, charged with the bombings that occurred almost simultaneously on August 7th, 1998. The first bombing at 10:30 in the morning Nairobi, Kenya. It was a devastating blast, where 213 were killed, 213 killed, including 12 Americans, also more than 4,000 wounded. The Nairobi embassy was, in fact, downtown in Nairobi, and it was particularly vulnerable and was devastating. Two of the defendants are charged in direct connection with that particular bombing, although all four are charged with the entire conspiracy.

Now, the second one occurred 10 minutes later, at 10:40 in the morning, and way in another country, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. That one did not have the devastating consequences, but prosecutors said it was part of a coordinated effort. In that particular one, 11 died in the embassy and several people received minor injuries.

Now, all four are guilty. We are just hearing the first charges coming in, and the story is that all four of the defendants -- all four of the defendants -- have been found guilty of the conspiracy charges. Conspiracy to kill Americans, which is the very first charge, they have been found guilty. Conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals, we're told, but the conspiracy charges means that all four of them face the possibility of life imprisonment. The other charges which involve death penalty will come bit later.

But the four who have been found guilty include Mohamed al- 'Owhali, who was charged with participating directly in the bombing of the embassy in Nairobi. The second guilty charge was found against Mohammed Odeh. He is charged with being a bomb expert who helped prepare the bomb that was used in the explosion in Nairobi.

The third defendant found guilty of the conspiracy charge, the man who is called K.K. Mohamed. He is charged with being directly involved or a participate -- participant in the bombing in Tanzania.

And the fourth charge was the guilty charge in the conspiracy charges is Wadih el Hage. He is the natural -- naturalized American who was born in Lebanon. He was charged with being somebody who was a personal secretary of bin Laden, and now he's been found guilty of actually participating in this conspiracy.

All the conspiracy charges now have been sent back, and the -- all have been guilty charges. We've also moved on now to the second charges, which is the charge of actually being involved in the bombings in both Kenya and Tanzania. Guilty charges against the defendants in that particular one, too. The bombing charges, guilty.

So the prosecution thus far is having a clean sweep. We're waiting now for charges that'll come in a little while on the murder charges. These will be the charges that could carry the death penalty for two of the defendants, the two who charged with actually participating in these bombings.

By the way, if, in fact they are found guilty, those two, of those charges, there will be a death penalty hearing tomorrow for the jury to decide whether, in fact, the death penalty should be applied. This, by the way, is not unexpected.

Now, there is one person named in the indictment who is not on trial here who's of most particular note, and that is Osama bin Laden. He is the man who is considered the ringleader of al Qaeda. That is called the base. That is an organization that the prosecutors allege in their indictment is an organization that, because of a couple of fatwas that he issued -- fatwas being religious opinions -- the members of that organization are, in effect, under orders or instruction to kill Americans any way that they can. That is really at the heart of these indictments. These four defendants, the ones who have just been put on trial, are the ones who were actually brought into custody in New York. Some of the others who are charged in the indictment are being held in other countries. And many of the others, including, of course, Osama bin Laden, continue to be fugitives, right now just beyond arrest.

We're waiting for the other charges, as I mentioned. We've gotten as far as the bombing charges. We're looking for the murder charges. And also, the last charge will be the perjury charge against the man -- the naturalized American, Wadih el Hage, who is charged with being the personal secretary for a time for Osama bin Laden.


KAGAN: All right, Bob, while we have news breaking and coming in, let's take a deep breath and review what we do know so far. The verdict in on the conspiracy charges, all four defendants found guilty on that. What kind of penalties do these men face on those charges alone, Bob? FRANKEN: Well, these are not the charges that carry the death penalty. These are the charges that would carry life in prison. So these defendants face the possibility of life in prison. You could probably argue the probability. We'll leave that to some of the lawyers to discuss as we go in the afternoon.

What we really want to watch for now are the direct murder charges. We haven't heard verdicts on yet -- on that yet, but there are two of the defendants who are actually charged with participating in these two bombings, direct participation. They are charged with murder -- in the case of Nairobi, charged with murdering 213, and in Dar es Salaam charged with murdering an additional 11. Those charges carry the death penalty.

KAGAN: And those would be defendants al-'Owhali and Mohamed. What is it about those two men that separates them out from the others, Bob?

FRANKEN: They are the ones, we are told by the prosecutors in their indictment, who actually participated in the actual acts of the bombing. In the case of Mohamed al-'Owhali, he is charged with riding in truck with the person who drove it, actually getting out of the truck, carrying some pistols, which didn't work, and also a stun grenade, which he threw at one of the security people. So he is charged with actual participation.

The other one is Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. We call him K.K. Mohamed. He is charged with riding at least part of the way there to embassy in Dar es Salaam with the person who actually drove the truck that was involved in the bombing.

So those two are considered direct participants. The other two defendants are being found guilty of participating in the conspiracy which underlies this entire indictment. And of course, as I pointed out a couple of times, there are other people named in the indictment who have not yet been brought to justice.

KAGAN: All right, Bob Franken, we'll have you stand by in New York. As soon as any more verdicts come in, we'll have you break in live and bring those to us.

Meanwhile, let's get some legal perspective on that, and with that here's Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Roger Cossack, our legal analyst, is standing by in Washington, D.C. He's also been following the breaking news here.

Roger, hello.


You know, I think the most interesting thing about this so far was that the jury giving us no hint that they were ready to come back with a verdict, went home Thursday night, took Friday off, took Saturday off, Sunday, of course, the weekend, and Monday, Memorial Day, and then came back and within two hours had a verdict, and a very long verdict. As Bob has indicated, there's going to be some 560- something different decisions that they made.

It's obviously clear that now that the defense of these four men was not believed by the jury in this case. The defense was al-'Owhali said that he -- although he confessed, his confession was coerced by the FBI, and the defense attorneys asked them throw it out. Mohamed said he didn't even know what the explosives were intended for, and obviously, the jury didn't believe this. El Hage said he was never a member of a terrorism conspiracy, and Odeh said he knew nothing of the plots.

But in the final analysis, it appears that the jury rejected these arguments and so far has come in with all guilty verdicts.

PHILLIPS: Roger, 302 counts, 61-page verdict -- it's going to take long time to get through all these indictments. Within all of that, what is it we should be watching for? Would it be specifically the direct murder charges, like Bob mentioned?

COSSACK: Well, that's probably the singularly most important charges that are being lodged against these gentlemen. In fact, for two of them, Mohamed and al-'Owhali, those are the ones that are faced with the death penalty. And if, in fact, the jury says that these people were directly involved in the commission of this crime, they therefore could be eligible and could get the death penalty, if the jury decides that's what is warranted.

The other two, of course, the greatest penalty they could get would be life imprisonment, and of course, that is -- that is also a terrible, terrible penalty to pay. But the only thing really left, although there are several -- several verdicts to be read, the two most dramatic ones yet will be when the jury decides whether or not these two gentlemen should get the death penalty.

PHILLIPS: All right, Roger Cossack, stand by. We'll continue discussing the legal aspects with you. We're going to go back over to Daryn now and Bob Franken.

KAGAN: Yeah, let's bring Bob back in. I think we have more news coming out of New York City.


FRANKEN: Well, OK. This is a big one. We have one of the murder counts in. It is the one that has to do with the bombing in Nairobi, Kenya. That's the one where 213 were killed and thousands were injured. The important one here is the finding of guilty against Mohamed al-'Owhali. He is the one who was charged with actually riding part of the way in the truck and getting out and throwing the stun grenade at the security guard at that embassy. He has been found guilty of murder, along with Mohammed Odeh.

Now, the difference is Odeh was found guilty of planning it but not of actually committing the murder, and that means that he would not have to face the death penalty. However, al-'Owhali faces the death penalty. That means tomorrow, for at least one defendant -- we're waiting for the other one.

For at least one defendant, there will be a death penalty hearing. The jury will decide whether, in fact, the death penalty should be applied. And there are going to be some really exotic arguments that are going to be made by defense attorneys that we've talked to, among them that this would be inappropriately cruel punishment. Never mind the magnitude of this crime, it would it be an inappropriately cruel punishment. He will, of course, be challenging the application of the death penalty under federal statutes at all.

We're waiting now for the murder guilty or innocent findings on the Tanzania bombings. That is the one in Dar es Salaam. To review a little bit, at 10:30 in morning on August 7th, 1998, there was a massive explosion at the embassy, the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya -- 213 killed, thousands injured.

Ten minutes later in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, there was a second explosion. That one killed 11, others received minor injuries. The difference, by the way, is that embassy in Dar es Salaam was located at the edge of town not downtown, so it was not as vulnerable to the massive kind of havoc that was wreaked when the bombing occurred in Nairobi, Kenya.

There has been -- immediately, there was immediately a worldwide search for the different people who might have been participants of it. It has focused almost since the beginning on Osama bin Laden and his organization, the organization that bin Laden has led in recent years from Afghanistan. And prosecutors have named him as one of the people, one of the 22 people who was indicted in the 302-count indictment that they put out.

Now, we are talking about the Tanzania bombing. That is the other one that involves the death penalty. And what we are now hearing is that K.K. Mohamed, who was the person charged with directly being involved in that bombing, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, has been found guilty. So he, too, faces the possibility of the death penalty.

So the two defendants, the two of the four defendants, who, in fact -- who in fact -- the -- we're having somebody who's trying to break into our programming here, but the two of the four defendants who faced the death penalty will now be facing a death penalty hearing tomorrow. And the other two have been found guilty, too, but their charges do not have a death penalty application.


KAGAN: All right, Bob Franken in New York City. All four of the defendants facing at least life in prison with guilty verdicts on conspiracy charge, and two of the defendants facing possible death penalty with two guilty verdicts on the murder charge.

Our coverage continues. Right now a quick break.


PHILLIPS: Welcome back to CNN Live Today. If you've been following our coverage, we've been covering the breaking news story of a verdict that has been reached in the embassy bombing trial. Our Bob Franken has been covering this story, is live in New York with some updated information.

Frank, what do you have? Or Bob?

FRANKEN: Well, Kyra, the findings are this. All four defendants have thus far been found guilty of all -- in all the verdicts that have been read, in the charges connected to the bombings of August 7th, 1998, nearly simultaneous bombings that wracked the downtown of Nairobi, Kenya, and killed 213 of the embassy there, wounded 4,000- plus people. That was in Nairobi. Ten minutes later in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a second bombing that prosecutors say was tightly coordinated with this. There 11 people died, the difference being that that embassy was located on the outskirts of town, the one in Nairobi was right downtown. Eleven died altogether.

Now, there are four defendants. Mohamed al-'Owhali -- he is found guilty of directly participating in the bombings in Nairobi. He has been found guilty of murder and now faces death penalty. There will be a penalty phase hearing tomorrow, a death penalty hearing tomorrow. So the jury will get a chance to rule whether, in fact, it should be applied.

The second defendant found guilty of conspiracy and some of other charges, Mohammed Odeh. He is a bomb expert and admitted member of the Osama bin Laden organization who acknowledged meeting with some people who were participants in the bombing in a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, denied, in fact, however, that he was helping them prepare a bomb for use in the bombings. Nevertheless, he has been found guilty of conspiracy and the other charges. But he does not face the death penalty.

The third -- the third defendant is Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. He is known throughout his friends and during the trial as K.K. Mohamed. He is charged with actually participating, accompanying the driving in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to that bombing.

And the fourth defendant is Wadih el Hage -- Wadih el Hage. He is an American citizen, a naturalized American citizen, who lives in Arlington, Texas, along with his wife and seven children. He is charged, however, with participating in the conspiracy when he lived in Nairobi, Kenya. He is also charged with being for a while the personal secretary of Osama bin Laden, charged with perjury for lying about that.

Now, Osama bin Laden is the name you keep on hearing me say. He is one of 22 people who was, in fact, indicted. Only four of them became defendants in this particular trial. But bin Laden, of course, remains a fugitive, is charged with issuing the fatwas -- religious opinions -- which called for the death of Americans around the world which prosecutors say are the opinions that were the underpinnings of this conspiracy which actually caused the bombings.

Kyra? PHILLIPS: All right, Bob Franken, thank you so much.

Now once again we want to bring in our legal analyst, Roger Cossack, who's been standing by.

Roger, Bob was mentioning that now these death penalty hearings are going to take place. Why don't you talk a little bit about those and the two gentlemen that now face those, what will take place.

COSSACK: All right, before I do that, let me just explain something that's just happened recently, which I think is quite interesting and has to do in this case. One of the gentlemen who has been -- who has now been made eligible for the death penalty, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, K.K. Mohamed, as Bob Franken has been referring to him -- yesterday the supreme court of South Africa ruled that his extradition from that country was illegal. And the basis for that extradition, or that holding, was the fact that their country, South Africa, does not believe in the death penalty and the United States does have the death penalty. And therefore, they would never extradite anyone from their country to a country that does have death penalty.

Now, there is a claim, of course, on the other side. The FBI and the U.S. attorney is claiming that he -- K.K. Mohamed waived his rights and was specifically asked, "Do you want to go to Tanzania, or do you want to go to the United States?" And he said, "I want to go to the United States," and he waived his rights.

And quite frankly, even though there is this holding, Kyra, I don't think it's going to have much impact on what happens to him.

Now, as far as the death penalty is concerned, there will be a hearing in front of the jury tomorrow, and the jury will decide whether or not he receives the death penalty. Evidence will be placed. The defense attorneys will say that his role was minimal, that he is really a secondary player. There are those who argue that the United States is making a mistake in putting secondary players like this to death, that just creates more harm and creates more anger among these people than it would if they would -- than it would if you would just put them away for life.

These are the arguments that'll be heard in front of that jury. And as I understand it, that it hearing begins tomorrow.

PHILLIPS: All right, now, you mentioned secondary players. That leads us to the question of this alleged -- of the alleged mastermind, Osama bin Laden. How could this verdict affect the search for bin Laden?

COSSACK: Well, Osama bin Laden, as far as -- as far as we've been told, is residing in Afghanistan and has a production -- and has the protection of the Taliban government. Now, one of the things that we found out during this trial from the evidence, from the witnesses, is that the Osama bin Laden organization is not quite as productive and perhaps not as wealthy as we have believed that they were, that, in fact, there have -- they have money problems, that, in fact, there is difficulty and there is some problems within the organization.

I am sure -- and I'm speaking now not as someone who's on the inside but as an American citizen -- - that the FBI and the Justice Department would love to get their hands on Osama bin Laden, but while he is in Afghanistan and under the protection of the Talibans, I think that is going to be a very, very difficult thing for them to do.

PHILLIPS: All right, hold tight. Our CNN legal analyst, Roger Cossack. We're going to bring our Bob Franken back in, who's in New York and covering the fact that the verdict has been reached in this trial.


FRANKEN: Kyra, one thing I'd like to discuss with Roger, if we could, is the argument that was made earlier in the trial about whether, in fact, the defendants here in a U.S. court were given the normal constitutional protections when they were arrested overseas that they would have been given here. The defense tried to argue that early in trial, was rejected by the judge. I would anticipate that when we get to this death penalty phase tomorrow, those arguments would come up again. It's a really difficult issue, Roger.

COSSACK: You know, Bob, historically, at least, in -- in -- under the law, the Constitution has been held not to take effect until you hit the United States of America. And the question of whether or not constitutional protections -- you are entitled to constitutional protections in another country has pretty much been settled, that it doesn't begin until you hit here. And that's what I think the judge in New York probably made his decision upon.

I do think, of course, that they will make that argument. And all of those arguments, particularly the ones that say it doesn't really pay to take people like this -- they will describe them as secondary figures -- and put them to death.

FRANKEN: And also the argument will be made, I've been told by some of the defense attorneys, that even though there were a total of 224 killed and thousands wounded, that the application of death penalty here would be overly cruel, would violate the U.S. Constitution. It's an argument that the one particular attorney I discussed this with said does not -- he does not believe it's actually going to have much success, but he's going to make it anyway.

The judge, by the way, is an appointment from the Carter years, Judge Leonard Sand. He's very, very interesting. He runs the case very quickly. It was over -- began, middle and end -- much more quickly than anybody expected. He runs a very tight ship, but he does it oftentimes with a sense of humor. He is also somebody who is considered an expert on courtroom procedures, has written some textbooks, for instance, on the selection of a jury.

So it's been interesting, if you're somebody who really is into watching how the system operates, to watch him operate this trial. As I said, he was quite successful in having the trial take only about half as long as just about everybody predicted it would. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: All right, our Bob Franken, covering the verdict of the embassy bombing trial there in New York. Our CNN legal analyst, Roger Cossack, in Washington, D.C.

We are going to continue our coverage, but you and I are switching gears.

KAGAN: We are excused from the table, so to speak. Lou Waters and Natalie Allen will take over at the top of the hour.

A quick break. Our coverage continues. Thanks for being with us.




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