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Warning jurors they should expect to assemble a complex jigsaw puzzle of evidence, a federal prosecutor promised Monday to show that four accused terrorists were part of an organized, well-financed conspiracy to attack Americans and U.S. installations, including the 1998 bombings of two embassies in Africa. “The story that is about to unfold before you is long, complicated and chilling,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul W. Butler told a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand. “But at the core, the charges are simple — that all four of these defendants entered into an illegal agreement with Osama Bin Laden to kill Americans anywhere in the world.” After two years of pre-trial jockeying — much of it conducted in secret — opening arguments finally began Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the long-awaited trial of the men the government contends belonged to Al Qaeda, or the “Base,” an organization allegedly formed by Bin Laden during the drive to expel the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Wadih El-Hage, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-’Owhali and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed are accused of conspiring to kill, kidnap and maim United States nationals, destroy U.S. property and attack national defense facilities. All but El-Hage are charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. nationals. He is accused of making false statements to federal agents and committing perjury before a grand jury. Two of the defendants face the death penalty: Al-’Owhali, who prosecutors say helped deliver the bomb to the United States embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 213 people, and Mohamed, who worked to assemble the bomb that exploded at the embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. With the sound of a howling wind echoing outside the courtroom, Butler delivered a straightforward, methodical rendering of the conspiracy in a speech that was in keeping with the close-to-the-vest posture that the government has maintained from the beginning of the case. Without revealing much of the government’s evidence, Butler promised the jury they would have the “extraordinary opportunity” to hear a witness who was a “sworn member” of the Base testify against his former compatriots. Butler also said the jury would hear, as presented by investigators, the confessions of Al-’Owhali, Mohamed and Odeh. Butler set the stage by describing the scene at the American embassy in Nairobi just before 10:30 a.m. on Aug 7, 1998. It was a busy morning, he said, as people such as American Consul General Julian L. Bartley Sr. and his son, Julian, who was working as an intern, went about their business. “Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed,” Butler told the jury. “A truck entered the rear parking lot. In the back of that truck was a massive bomb that exploded with devastating force.” Al-’Owhali was there, Butler said, because he had planned to “kill and be killed,” but he chose to run from the scene before an explosion that killed 213 people and wounded thousands more. In questioning by investigators, he said, Al-’Owhali “bragged” about his training in Afghanistan and “boasted about meeting Osama Bin Laden personally and asking him for a mission.” Shortly after the bomb had been detonated in Kenya, Butler said, a second explosion rocked the embassy in Tanzania. Khalfan Mohamed was in the truck that delivered that bomb, but he bailed out just before the truck reached the embassy. Mohamed “confessed to his role in the bombing in Tanzania,” Butler said. “The evidence will show that Khalfan Mohamed actually helped grind the TNT that was used in that bomb and loaded the TNT into the truck,” Butler said. Frederick Cohn, attorney for Al-’Owhali, chose not to make an opening statement. BELIEFS NOT ON TRIAL Lawyers for the other three defendants used sharply different approaches to the jury, with the only common threads being pleas to treat their clients as individuals and to not put the religious beliefs of Muslims on trial. The three lawyers also made the decision to concede, up front, the evidence that the government already has firmly in hand. Sam A. Schmidt sought to personalize El-Hage for the jury, describing him as a family man who went to work as a personal secretary for Bin Laden and helped the multi-millionaire on business transactions, but played no part in political activities. “He didn’t participate in the conspiracy — he didn’t agree with Osama Bin Laden’s methods,” Schmidt said. Schmidt, whose client is an American citizen, urged the jury not to “judge people by their associations.” He then warned that “the government will ask you to put a small number of pieces together and then guess as to the other pieces.” Anthony L. Ricco, representing Odeh, cautioned the jurors against jumping to conclusions and the desire for revenge. Speaking in a relaxed, intimate manner with the panel, Ricco said, “It is extremely difficult to overcome the reality that so many people died.” He added that jurors would be tempted, after seeing photos of the bombing, “to jump over this bar and end this right now.” “People who suffer pain, what do they ask for? Revenge? Retribution?” he inquired. “No, they ask for justice.” Odeh, he said, was a devoutly religious Muslim, “a soldier” who joined Al Qaeda “not to kill Americans — and only to the extent that Al Qaeda would engage in acts that conformed to Islamic law.” “Mohamed Odeh doesn’t distance himself from Osama Bin Laden — and that is contrary to our perception of people in the Islamic world — as a horde of unthinking people who act like robots,” he said. “Like other [generalizations] in our culture, that is so far from the truth as to be a joke.” BIT PLAYER Right from the start, Jeremy Schneider said it was “uncontroverted” that Khalfan Khamis Mohamed was a “gopher” who “had nothing to do with this organization in any way.” “If he bumped into him on the street, he wouldn’t know Osama Bin Laden,” Schneider said. Speaking forcefully and gesturing for emphasis, Schneider made it clear he was conceding Mohamed’s guilt and devoting his energy to saving his client from the death penalty. “K.K. Mohamed never heard any statements by Mr. Bin Laden to kill anybody,” he said. “These are things you can’t ignore, these are things you can’t forget — these are things you must focus on when someone is facing the death penalty.” Three times Schneider was cautioned by Judge Sand not to address the penalty phase of the case. He also addressed statements that Mohamed gave to investigators, such as “I’m not sorry for it,” and “I’d consider doing it again.” Schneider told the jury, “K.K. Mohamed acted purely out of deep philosophical convictions, his interpretation of the Koran — that’s why he said those things.” The trial is expected to last at least six months. The first witness for the prosecution, whose identity has not yet been revealed, is expected to be called to the stand today. A key witness for the government is a confidential informant, a former member of the Base, who is expected to describe the workings of the organization. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick J. Fitzgerald and Kenneth M. Karas also represent the government. Joshua Dratel and Kristian Larsen also represent El-Hage. Edward Wilford, Carl J. Herman and Sandra A. Babcock also represent Odeh. Laura Gasiorowski and David Preston Baugh also represent Al-’Owhali, and David Stern and David Ruhnke also represent Mohamed.

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