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Witness: Bin Laden planned attack on U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia

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Defense attorney David Stern, at podium, cross-examines the government's lead witness, Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl, who can not be shown.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- In his third day of testimony, the government's lead witness in the embassy bombings trial told the court Tuesday that a group led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden considered bombing the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia's capital of Riyadh.

Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl said certain members of bin Laden's group, "al Qaeda," proposed blowing up the embassy in 1994 but the plan had been abandoned.

Al-Fadl spoke of the possible attack twice under cross examination by defense attorneys in the course of the day.

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Shattered Diplomacy: The U.S. Embassy Bombings Trial
An in-depth special report on the trial of four men charged with the embassy bombings
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"Did you say, 'Let's not bomb embassies, innocent people could be killed?'" David Stern, attorney for defendant Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, asked Al-Fadl.

"No," the witness said.

Al-Fadl testified last week that in the summer of 1996 he had warned U.S. officials of potential embassy bombings by al Qaeda, the anti-American group he joined with other Islamic militants in the waning days of the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation.

The August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, allegedly carried out by al Qaeda, killed 224 people and injured thousands.

Four men are standing trial for direct participation in those attacks, which are the main part of a 308-count indictment naming 21 individuals for participating in an alleged decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. government property. Bin Laden, the lead defendant, allegedly headed up that conspiracy. He is not being tried at this time and is believed to be living in Afghanistan.

In addition to K.K. Mohamed, a 27-year-old Tanzanian, the defendants are Mohamed al'-Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi, Mohamed Odeh, a 35-year-old Jordanian, and Wadih el Hage, a 40-year-old naturalized American from Lebanon.

Al-Fadl, a 37-year-old Sudanese, said he was one of the first members to swear allegiance to al Qaeda when it was formed around 1989 in Afghanistan and that he worked in a position of responsibility for bin Laden's enterprises after he relocated his headquarters to Sudan in the early 1990's.

Al Qaeda shipped four crates of weapons and explosives to Yemen to be used "against foreign army and American army in east Saudi Arabia," Al Fadl testified last week. But prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told the court the material was never used against Americans.

Although no embassies in Saudi Arabia were attacked, some U.S. installations were hit, beginning in the mid-90s.

In November 1995, a car bomb at a U.S. military building in Riyadh killed seven people, including five Americans. Four Saudis, after televised confessions, were beheaded for the crime.

In June 1996, a truck bomb explosion at a military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia killed 19 U.S. servicemen. Saudi officials have arrested numerous suspects but the case is still under investigation. Bin Laden has denied having any responsibility for it.

Al-Fadl previously testified that he broke with bin Laden in 1996 after siphoning off $110,000 in al Qaeda funds that he could not pay back. He approached an American embassy and offered his insider's knowledge of an organization run by a man now topping the U.S. government's most wanted list.

Al-Fadl has placed only one trial defendant on the scene with al Qaeda -- el Hage. Al Fadl said el Hage had his own office in bin Laden's four-story headquarters on McNimr Street in Khartoum, Sudan. Bin Laden's office was one floor up.

Al-Fadl's testimony is part of a plea agreement with the government. He could face up to 15-years in prison for conspiring to attack U.S. military facilities and forces. He has been living in federal protective custody for the past five years.

David Baugh, a defense attorney for al-'Owhali, questioned Al-Fadl Tuesday. In the course of the cross-examination, Baugh produced a document showing the bill for keeping Al-Fadl in the witness protection program has cost more than $794,000 since 1999. The FBI's cost has been an additional $151,000 since 1997.

Court resumes at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, with more cross-examination of Al-Fadl by the lawyer for el Hage, and the appearance of two more prosecution witnesses.

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Links to United States Embassies and Consulates Worldwide
Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999
FBI Websites Document Evidence Against Bin Laden
Dept of State/International Information Programs:
Ussamah Bin Laden
US District Court, Southern District of New York
U.S. State Department - Counterterrorism
Terrorism Research Center
Africa News on the World Wide Web

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