|Witness Tells How Bin Laden
Embassy Bombing Trial Hears From Defector
By Colum Lynch
NEW YORK, Feb. 6 -- A defector from Osama bin Laden's alleged terrorist network gave a dramatic account of its inner workings today, telling a New York jury that the militant Islamic organization received military and political support from Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and from Sudan's ruling Islamic party.
Jamal Ahmed Fadl, who has been a U.S. informant since 1996 and whose identity had previously been kept secret by the government, was the first witness in the federal trial of four men accused of conspiring to bomb the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998.
Fadl, 38, said he was inducted into the group -- known as al Qaeda, Arabic for "the Base" -- as one of its earliest members in 1989 in Afghanistan. He also said he was present when bin Laden declared war on the United States in the early 1990s and vowed to drive American forces from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
"We have to cut the head off the snake and stop them," Fadl quoted bin Laden as saying in late 1993. "The snake is America."
Dressed in blue jeans and a white skull cap, the former Sudanese militant described the organization's political structure, military strategy and links to Islamic revolutionaries from Chechnya to Yemen, including its purchase of farms for military training in Sudan.
Fadl said al Qaeda was founded in 1989 by Islamic freedom fighters who had driven the Soviet army out of Afghanistan. When the war ended, bin Laden, the son of a Saudi construction magnate, found a new enemy: moderate, pro-Western Arab governments, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the United States. And he moved his headquarters to Sudan, establishing a series of businesses to conceal the group's activities and finance its operations.
Fadl said bin Laden declared war on the United States in 1991, after American troops established bases in Saudi Arabia, site of Islam's holiest places, to drive Iraq from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. "They can't let the American army stay in the gulf, taking our oil, taking our money," Fadl quoted bin Laden as saying. "We have to do something to take them out. We have to fight them."
Bin Laden, who is believed to be living in Afghanistan, has been indicted in the embassy bombings case and the State Department has offered a $5 million reward for his capture. The United States has pressured Afghanistan's ruling Taliban to surrender bin Laden, but to no avail.
U.S. officials also have said they suspect bin Laden of involvement in the suicide bombing of the Navy destroyer USS Cole in October in the Yemeni port of Aden, which killed 17 sailors.
According to the prosecution, Fadl -- who had previously been identified in court documents only as "CS-1," for Confidential Source No. 1 -- broke ranks with bin Laden after he was caught stealing money from the Saudi exile. Fadl has pleaded guilty to an unspecified charge and is cooperating with the government under a plea agreement, prosecutors said.
"In an attempt to save himself and his family, he approached the American government and offered to provide information," Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Butler said in his opening argument Monday.
Fadl said he had lived and studied in the United States in the mid-1980s and attended a mosque in Brooklyn where he was recruited to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets. In Afghanistan, he met bin Laden. At the end of the Afghan war, he said, bin Laden proposed to form a new organization "to change our [Arab] governments. We need one Muslim government for the whole Muslim world."
Fadl said he then traveled with his brother to a secret guesthouse in Afghanistan, where he signed three papers and swore allegiance to al Qaeda, pledging his life to a holy war. "Whatever it was they ask you, you have to do it," he said.
Although Fadl claims to have played no direct role in the bombings of the U.S. embassies, which killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000, the prosecution hopes that his testimony will help show al Qaeda is a sophisticated organization determined to kill Americans around the globe.
Fadl said al Qaeda members received extensive training in the use of explosives and disguises. During a visit to Egypt, for example, he shaved his beard, wore cologne and lit a cigarette to fool border guards into thinking he was a Western playboy rather than a religious zealot.
When bin Laden moved his headquarters to Sudan in 1991, Fadl said, he was ordered to manage the leader's businesses. On behalf of bin Laden, he said, he purchased a farm north of Khartoum and a salt flat near Port Sudan for $430,000. Those properties were used to grow corn and sesame and to train al Qaeda's members in the use of light weapons and explosives, he said.
Fadl testified the terrorist organization maintained close ties with Sudan's government, including the Sudanese intelligence agency, which provided information on suspicious Afghan travelers who entered the country. In addition, Sudan Airlines transported weapons from Afghanistan, and Sudan's President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir provided one of bin Laden's businesses with a handwritten letter that enabled it to bring goods into the country without being searched, he said.
"We don't have to pay tax. . . . They don't search our containers," he said in heavily accented English. "I show them the letter and they say, okay. No problem."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
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