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Speaker For Life,
15 May 2001
Ali Mohamed: The Defendant Who Did Not Go to Trial
Pled guilty to conspiracy in African embassy bombing case
By Judy Aita
New York -- As a jury deciding the fate of four men charged in the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa completed its third full day of deliberations May 15, another member of the group waited in an undisclosed location for his sentencing later this year.
Ali A. Mohamed was charged in the almost simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998, and with conspiring to kill Americans, along with Wadih El Hage, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. However, just months before their trial was to begin in Federal District Court in Manhattan on October 20, 2000, Mohamed pled guilty to five counts of conspiracy to kill nationals of the United States and officers or employees of the U.S. government on account of their official duties, to murder and kidnap, and to destroy U.S. property.
In his plea before Judge Leonard Sand, Mohamed linked Usama bin Laden with the embassy bombings and said he worked with El Hage and others indicted in the bomb plot.
Mohamed, 48, is a former Egyptian intelligence officer who became a United States citizen and a U.S. Army sergeant assigned to a Special Forces unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He left the U.S. Army in 1989 and in the early 1990s became involved in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization, which also worked with al Qaeda. He then trained fighters in surveillance techniques at al Qaeda camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Observers had expected Mohamed to be a key government witness against the four defendants during the trial, which began in January 2001. However, while his name was mentioned during testimony on contacts with El Hage and documents taken from his California home were entered into evidence, the former surveillance instructor never took the stand.
Mohamed's plea agreement with the government remains secret. In his October court appearance, Mohamed told the judge that the objective of his activities with Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda was "to attack any Western target in the Middle East, to force the governments of the Western countries just to pull out from the Middle East."
Mohamed explained to Judge Sand that that "based on the Marine [barracks] explosion in Beirut in 1984 and the American pull-out from Beirut," the group planned to use the same method to force the United States to leave Saudi Arabia. Was it true that the plans "included conspiracy to murder persons who were involved in government agencies and embassies overseas?" the judge asked. "Yes, your honor," Mohamed said. "And to destroy buildings and properties of the United States?" the judge said. "Yes, your honor," Mohamed answered.
Detailing his activities with the alleged terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Africa, Mohamed said that during those activities he "understood that I was working with al Qaeda, [Usama] bin Laden, Abu Hafs [and] Abu Ubaidah, and that al Qaeda had a shura council which included Abu Hajer al Iraqui." Mohamed told the judge that in the early 1980s he became involved with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization and in the 1990s was introduced to al Qaeda through the Egyptian organization. In the early 1990s Ayman Al Zawihiri made two visits to the United States to raise funds for Islamic Jihad, Mohamed said, and he helped Zawihiri do that. Zawihiri was also indicted in the bombing but remains at large, as does bin Laden.
"In 1991 I helped transport Usama bin Laden from Afghanistan to the Sudan," Mohamed said. "In 1992 I conducted military and basic explosives training for al Qaeda in Afghanistan," training among others Harum Fadhl and Abu Jihad, and also conducted intelligence training for al Qaeda, teaching trainees how to "create cell structures that could be used for operations." He described his work in helping al Qaeda set up "a presence in Nairobi" and enumerated work done by different individuals.
Mohamed said that:
"We used various code names to conceal our identities. I used the name 'Jeff;' El Hage used the name 'Norman,' Ihab used the name 'Nawawi.'" After having been asked by bin Laden to conduct surveillance of American, British, French, and Israeli targets in Nairobi, Mohamed said, he looked at potential targets: the American Embassy in Nairobi, the U.S. Agency for International Development Building in Nairobi, the U.S. Agricultural Office in Nairobi, the French Cultural Center and the French Embassy in Nairobi. "These targets were selected to retaliate against the United States for its involvement in Somalia," he said. "I took pictures, drew diagrams, and wrote a report.
"I later went to Khartoum, where my surveillance files and photographs were reviewed by Usama bin Laden, Abu Hafs, Abu Ubaidah, and others," he said. "Bin Laden looked at the picture of the American Embassy and pointed to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber." In 1994 bin Laden also sent him to Djibouti to do surveillance on several facilities, including French military bases and the American Embassy, Mohamed said.
In 1994, he said, while in Nairobi, he met with Abu Hafs and another man "in the back of Wadih El Hage's house" and "Abu Hafs told me, along with someone else, to do surveillance for the American, British, French, and Israeli targets in Senegal in West Africa."
"At about this time, in late 1994, I received a call from an FBI agent who wanted to speak to me about the upcoming trial of United States v. Abdel Rahman. I flew back to the United States, spoke to the FBI, but didn't disclose everything that I knew," Mohamed said.
"I reported on my meeting with the FBI to Abu Hafs and was told not to return to Nairobi," he said. He added that in 1995 he obtained a copy of the co-conspirator list for the Abdel Rahman trial and sent the list to El Hage in Kenya "expecting that it would be forwarded to bin Laden in Khartoum." After an attempt to assassinate bin Laden, Mohamed said he went to Sudan in 1994 to train bin Laden's bodyguards and security detail working in the interior of the bin Laden compound and coordinated their activities with the Sudanese intelligence agents who were responsible for exterior security. While in Sudan, Mohamed said, he also did surveillance training for al Qaeda. One of the people he trained was Ihab Ali, also known as Nawawi, who was supposed to train others. Nawawi is also in U.S. custody, but did not testify in the current trial.
In 1996 Mohamed learned from El Hage that Abu Ubaidah had drowned, he said. He said that in January 1998 he received a letter from Ihad Ali that said El Hage had been interviewed by the FBI in Kenya and gave him a contact number for El Hage.
"I called the number and then called someone who would pass the message to Fawwaz for bin Laden," he said.
"After the bombing in 1998, I made plans to go to Egypt and later to Afghanistan to meet bin Laden," Mohamed said. "Before I could leave, I was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury in the Southern District of New York. I testified, told some lies, and was then arrested."
Mohamed's arrest on September 10, 1998, was kept secret for eight months, apparently while he and the government attempted to negotiate a deal. However, he was publicly indicted in May 1999 and joined the four currently on trial, along with another defendant who will stand trial in July for attempted murder of a prison guard, in public arraignments and hearings. Nevertheless, Mohamed remained distant from the rest of the group, including remaining in solitary confinement after the others were allowed to rotate as cellmates.
Mohamed faces the possibility of life in prison. His sentencing date has been tentatively set for July 2001.
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