Suspect charged in Kenya bombing Yemenite admits role in U.S. Embassy blast, expected martyrdom

August 28, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Less than three weeks after the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, the Clinton administration filed charges yesterday against a Yemenite flown to the United States overnight, who has said he took part in the Kenya blast and expected to die a martyr.

U.S. officials told reporters that unprecedented international cooperation is producing results in the global investigation of the bombings -- blasts that are being blamed on terrorists and that led to retaliatory airstrikes last week against suspected terrorist support sites in Afghanistan and Sudan.

Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali of Yemen is the first individual to be charged in the bombings. A criminal complaint filed in New York City indicated that Al-'Owhali had talked freely with FBI investigators about his role and about preparations for the Nairobi bombing.

Charged with violating U.S. law, in part because 12 Americans were among the 247 people killed in the explosion, Al-'Owhali could be sentenced to death if convicted on the 14 charges of murder and plotting murder lodged against him. A magistrate ordered him held pending a court hearing Sept. 28.

U.S. authorities said a second suspect was being flown to New York from Kenya to face charges in the bombing. He was identified as Mohammed Sadiq Odeh, who was arrested in Pakistan on the day of the Nairobi blast and deported to Kenya.

Yesterday's developments appeared to be related solely to the embassy bombing in Nairobi. A nearly simultaneous attack occurred at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, but there was no report yesterday of progress in pursuing suspects in that incident.

It was not unusual, under international law, for Al-'Owhali to be charged in an American court even though the incident occurred abroad. U.S. embassies are considered to be American soil and are covered by U.S. criminal laws. The deaths of U.S. citizens provided a separate basis for charging him here.

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh refused to answer questions yesterday about why the suspects were being charged here.

He said that the decision resulted from his negotiations in Kenya with officials there, and those negotiations so far applied to only two individuals suspected in the blasts.

"This is a joint investigation, this is a joint endeavor," Freeh said. "The initial prosecution of a single subject here does not preclude prosecutions in that country [Kenya] or other jurisdictions necessarily."

Differences in the legal systems of the two countries or in the potential penalties that could be imposed, diplomatic reasons, or Kenyan fears of retaliation could have been factors in having the United States move first, under American law.

If suspects were mistreated, under U.S. standards, after being arrested abroad, that could complicate their prosecution in this country.

The information made available here yesterday suggested that the new criminal charge was based largely on questioning conducted by FBI agents after giving the suspects warnings about their constitutional rights if tried here.

Attorney General Janet Reno, who joined Freeh at the news conference, said the fast-moving criminal investigation, involving nearly 500 FBI agents who were sent abroad, was "one of the most extensive overseas criminal investigations in [U.S.] history. Today we have results."

Freeh stressed that the probe was at a "very early stage," and said, "We have many, many leads in many different places being pursued. There are multiple subjects being investigated at this point."

The chief target of the investigation is Osama bin Laden, the NTC exiled Saudi financier who U.S. officials say was a key figure behind the Africa bombings. So far, though, bin Laden has not been charged.

The complaint against Al-'Owhali said he and "others known and unknown" had been plotting the Kenya bombing since March. The scheme allegedly included terrorist training in Afghanistan, at camps affiliated with bin Laden's organization. Al-'Owhali had met with bin Laden in Afghanistan, and was aware of bin Laden's exhortation to his followers to kill Americans worldwide, the complaint said.

The complaint said Al-'Owhali traveled to Kenya from Lahore, Pakistan, "reconnoitered" the embassy, rode with another individual in the truck that contained the bomb, and tossed a grenade at an embassy guard.

Al-'Owhali understood that the incident "was supposed to be a martyrdom operation, which he did not expect to survive," the complaint said.

When taken into custody in Kenya, he had cuts and abrasions on his hands and face and a large wound on his back.

Al-'Owhali was contacted two days after the explosion by Kenyan officials. Included in the evidence that Kenyan officials and the FBI later recovered from the hospital where Al-'Owhali was treated were two keys that fit a padlock on the truck that contained the bomb and three bullets for a gun left in the vehicle.

Al-'Owhali told investigators he had discarded the items in a hospital bathroom, and they were found where he said they would be, the complaint said.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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