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The BBC's Jane Hughes
"Lawyers on both sides are preparing for the long haul"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 17:41 GMT
Embassy bombings trial begins
Kenya bomb
The bombing of the US embassy in Kenya left 213 dead
Jury selection has begun in the trial in New York of four men accused of plotting to bomb the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 in which 224 people lost their lives.

The man whom the United States believes masterminded the bombings, Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, remains at large.

The four men are charged with involvement in a terrorist conspiracy that plans to kill Americans around the world.

All of them maintain their innocence, but if they are convicted, two of the men face the death penalty.

Press ban

Prosecutors believe the trial is a significant blow to Mr bin Laden's organisation, which the US considers the biggest terrorist threat against it.

Osama bin Laden
Bin Laden: Still on America's most wanted list
It is expected to last at least nine months, with witnesses being called from six countries.

But before opening arguments can be heard a jury acceptable to both sides must be selected.

In an unusual move, the federal judge in charge of the case, Leonard Sand, closed jury selection to the public.

He said there were concerns that panellists might not be candid about their death penalty views in front of the media.

About 1,500 potential jurors have been screened ahead of the actual selection, thought to be one of the largest ever in a federal case.

Thirty people are now answering questions to help determine which 12 will make up the jury.

Reward

The trial stems from an indictment of 22 people, including Mr bin Laden, for a conspiracy to kill Americans abroad and for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

More than 200 people, including 12 Americans, were killed in the attacks and thousands injured.

All four accused are charged with murder of US nationals in the embassy bombings, and all have entered not guilty pleas.

  • Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian, is accused of participation in the bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

  • Mohamed Rashid Daoud al Owhali, 23, a Saudi, is accused of throwing a grenade at embassy guards in the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi. He too faces the death penalty if convicted.

  • Wadih el Hage, 40, a Lebanon-born US citizen, is accused of once serving as Osama bin Laden's personal secretary. He faces life in prison if convicted.

  • Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 35, of Jordan, is accused of helping plan the bombing in Kenya. He too faces life in prison if convicted.

Attack

A fifth defendant, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, was severed from the trial after he allegedly attacked a guard in the course of an attempt to escape from prison, critically wounding the officer.

Former US Army Sgt. Ali Mohamed
One man has pleaded guilty and is cooperating
He will face a separate trial later.

Mr Salim, accused of being a senior adviser to Mr bin Laden, is not the only suspect who has proven hard to control.

Mr el Hage had to be restrained by marshals when he charged the judge.

Judge Sand has made it clear that he will treat disruption severely.

"There should be no occasion for any defendant to make any audible sound," he said, warning that he was prepared to order disruptive defendants placed in a cell to watch the trial via video.

More suspects at large

Three other suspects are awaiting extradition proceedings in Britain.

Another defendant, former US army sergeant Ali Mohamed, 48, has already pleaded guilty in the case, and prosecutors are using his testimony in the case.

But most of the accused are still at large, and US officials have offered a $5m reward for information leading to their arrest.

Mr bin Laden is believed to be living in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taleban.

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See also:

20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Who is Osama bin Laden?
03 Nov 00 | South Asia
US Bin Laden demand rejected
17 May 00 | Americas
Clinton accuses bin Laden
09 Oct 98 | Americas
Three deny embassy bomb murders
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