Analysis: Anatomy of a bombing cell
By Richard Sale, Terrorism Correspondent
Washington - Jan. 2 (UPI) - They were well trained, well disciplined,
dedicated, and one even prepared to die. That is the portrait of the four
agents of Saudi exile terrorist Osama bin Laden who are scheduled to go on
trial tomorrow at U.S. District Court in Manhattan for plotting to kill
Americans in a worldwide conspiracy.
The centerpiece of the 162-page indictment is the 1998 bombings of the
U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, which killed 224 people,
including 12 Americans, according to Justice Department officials.
The defendants include Wadih El-Hage, a Lebanon-born U.S. citizen, who
U.S. government officials said had once been bin Laden's private secretary
in Khartoum and who was allegedly activated by bin Laden for the bombings.
However, he attracted so much attention to himself that the FBI was tapping
his cellular phones in Kenya by 1996, exposing him as an operative.
In 1997, Kenyan security forces and the FBI raided his house in Kenya
where the Kenyans captured all the data on El-Hage's computer hard drive,
according to U.S government officials with close knowledge of the case. The
fact that El-Hage was caught early means that he is not charged in the
embassy bombings and will not be charged with murder, they said.
According to these same U.S. sources, by 1997 Kenya had become a key
financial conduit for funding the various cells of the growing bin Laden
network in Western Europe and the United States. The bin Laden network was
also using Kenya as a transit point for huge amounts of drugs coming in from
Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most important, it was a key "insertion" point for
bin Laden terrorists with strike missions in Western Europe or the United
When joint Kenyan-Egyptian-American counterintelligence operations proved
a dire threat to the network, bin Laden plotted to rid the area of
Americans, to punish the United States for its activities in the region,
these sources said.
Mohamed Rashed Daoud Owhali, one of the four defendants about to be tried,
replaced el-Hage in the bombing plot. Owhali, a Yemeni national, was
activated for the plot in early 1998, along with a Jordanian, Mohammed
Sadeek Odeh, and another defendant, Abdallah Nacha, from Lebanon.
According to U.S. government sources, Odeh was the Nairobi network chief.
Posing as a Mombassa-based fisherman, he used Owhali and Naca as
subcontractors, selling fish to city hotels and using the job as a cover to
case U.S. targets in early 1998.
In the spring, Owhali, who qualified for "martyrdom" operations, was sent
for training in kidnapping, hijacking, and bomb making in a number of camps
In mid-July, an unidentified Egyptian in command of the plot, a militant
Islamic who had a genuine U.S. passport, arrived in Nairobi to make an
expert assessment of the situation, these U.S. government officials said. In
late July, Owhali traveled by air from Lahore, Pakistan to Nairobi while
Odeh took a bus to Nairobi.
Owhali was to have died in the blast from 1,800 pounds of Semtex-H in a
shaped charge placed in a pick-up truck. The bombs in Nairobi and
Dar-es-Salaam were supposed to go off simultaneously, so Odeh worked with
another bin Laden operative heading the network in Tanzania, Mustafa
Mohammed Fadhil, an Egyptian in his early 20s, according to U.S. sources.
The fuses and some other bomb mechanisms were built at the Hill Top Hotel
in Nairobi, according to U.S. officials with close knowledge of the case.
Owhali, Naca and Odeh provided support for three other terrorists who
actually built and detonated the bomb, they said.
The two groups had no contact, but each had maps of the embassy, access
roads, structural studies of the building, escape routes.
Final approval for the operation was given Aug. 4 or 5 with Odeh and
Fadhil coordinating details over the phone. They had met in Kenya in April
to discuss operational details, U.S. government sources said.
Odeh and Fadhil left their respective digs on Aug. 6, the evening before
the bombing. They met again in Nairobi airport where they and six other
terrorists traveling on false passports caught flight 746 to Karachi. Upon
arrival, the others passed through customs, but Odeh had been identified by
the CIA and arrested by Pakistani authorities.
"The Pakistanis never give us any good intelligence on terrorism," said
one U.S. counter terrorist analyst. "If we say, go arrest Joe Smith at such
and such a house with a green door on such and such a street, they do it to
show they don't countenance terrorism."
Owhali, to his and his group's surprise, survived the blast, only to find
he was in the hands of Kenyan security forces.
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