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24 September 1998: See related files: http://jya.com/alqfiles.htm
21 September 1998: Link to USA complaints in embassy bombings.
20 September 1998
See court docket on Haroun Fazil: http://jya.com/hf091898.htm
NEW YORK -- Federal authorities charged on Thursday that the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya last month was orchestrated by an Islamic extremist from the island nation of Comoros who reported directly to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile who is now the focus of the world-wide inquiry.
Broadening the case against bin Laden's organization, the government offered a $2 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Haroun Fazil, who has been eluding authorities since a warrant was issued for his arrest late last month.
Fazil has been accused of 12 counts of murder, one for each American who died in the Kenyan embassy; murder conspiracy, and the use of weapons of mass destruction. He could face life imprisonment or the death penalty if convicted.
Federal officials also said they had arrested a man whom they described as the former personal secretary to bin Laden when both men lived in the Sudan in 1994. The defendant, Wadih el Hage, of Arlington, Texas, is the first American citizen known to have been charged in the investigation of bin Laden and the embassy attacks.
El Hage appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Manhattan late on Thursday and was charged with three counts of making false statements to investigators. A federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, told the magistrate that the government would indict el Hage on new charges by Monday, and he was ordered held without bond. His lawyer, Bruce McIntyre, had no comment.
The charges disclosed on Thursday by Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, and Lewis Schiliro, assistant director of the FBI in New York, show now more clearly how investigators are methodically building the case against bin Laden, his operatives and lieutenants.
Bin Laden was charged in a sealed indictment earlier this year that accused him of various acts of terrorism. The government has not said when or whether it plans an indictment in the bombings.
Ms. White said that Fazil was "a very active member of the Kenyan cell" of bin Laden's terrorist group. "He's an allegedly major player in the organization," Ms. White said.
Schiliro said that the new charges "will get us closer to a resolution of this case, but it is by no means ended."
The announcements on Thursday also shed light on the investigation of bin Laden that dates back to before the nearly simultaneous attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. In those attacks, on Aug. 7, more than 250 people died, 12 of them Americans, and thousands of people were wounded.
A federal complaint unsealed on Thursday shows that el Hage was interviewed by the authorities in New York as early as September 1997, and questioned about bin Laden's activities and his associates.
At the time, the complaint says, el Hage admitted to having worked as bin Laden's personal secretary, and also to knowing two of his top military commanders, identified as Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri and Abu Hafs el Masry.
Al Banshiri drowned in a ferry accident in East Africa in 1996, the court papers said, but they offered few other details about either men.
Schiliro would not say where the authorities believe Fazil has fled, or how he may have left the Comoros islands, which are in the Indian Ocean southeast of Tanzania and Kenya. Earlier this month, the FBI and the Comoros police raided two homes on the island of Moroni, looking for Fazil, and also questioned his wife.
The authorities described Fazil as an explosives expert in his mid-20s who speaks fluent French, Swahili, Arabic, and English, and is adept with computers.
Although the federal complaint did not describe precisely Fazil's rank in Bin Laden's organization, it suggested that his role in the Nairobi attack was more significant than any of the three other defendants who have been arrested and are being held in Manhattan.
The federal complaint said that Fazil's duties in al Qaeda included the preparation of various reports for bin Laden and his top lieutenants. In the Kenyan bombing, Fazil was accused of renting the room in the Hilltop Hotel in Nairobi where investigators believe that the bomb was constructed, and of hiring two people to clean the room after the attack.
On Aug. 7, the day of the attack, the government said, Fazil drove a white pick-up truck which led another vehicle, which was carrying the bomb, to the embassy site in Nairobi.
Prosecutors did not directly accuse el Hage of a role in the embassy bombings. But the documents say that Fazil and el Hage, the Texan, were close, and that the two shared a house last year in Nairobi. El Hage moved to Kenya from the Sudan in 1994, the government said, before returning to the United States in 1997.
El Hage did not speak in court on Thursday, but his supervisor at the Fort Worth, company where he works, Lone Star Wheels and Tires, said that el Hage told him on Monday that he had to take care of personal business in New York, and would return in two days.
He left that afternoon on a 4:30 plane and the supervisor, Mahmoud Mazouni, said that el Hage did not appear nervous or troubled.
He described el Hage as a quiet and conscientious employee who prayed several times a day in a back room, and avoided discussions of politics or his feelings about the U.S. government.
"He mostly talked about his kids," Mazouni said. "If he had any secrets, he didn't let anyone here know."
In a court disclosure form, el Hage wrote that he was married and had seven children, whose ages ranged from 12 years to several months.
His wife, April Ray, said in an interview on Thursday night at the family's apartment in a modest, two-story building near the University of Texas at Arlington that she had just learned of her husband's arrest.
"I'm pretty much shellshocked," she said through tears. "I just barely heard what's going on, and I'm having a hard time dealing with it." She declined to answer questions about her husband.
Prosecutors said that el Hage is an American citizen. They said in court papers that el Hage had told investigators that he once worked in Kuwait, and studied city planning in Louisiana.
The authorities said that after the August attacks, the Kenyan authorities, in the presence of FBI agents, searched a home in Nairobi, and seized files that included phone bills belonging to el Hage. They said they also found a receipt for an item which appeared to have been shipped to another defendant in the bombing case, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, who was arrested last month in Nairobi and flown to Manhattan to face charges.
El Hage is the fourth suspect known to be held in Manhattan in connection with the investigation. Late last month, Odeh and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali were charged with direct roles in the attack on the embassy in Nairobi. Last Friday, another suspect was charged in a sealed proceeding in Federal District Court, but his identity and nationality have not been disclosed.
Copyright The New York Times
September 20, 1998
ARLINGTON, Texas -- By the accounts of those who worked for him at a ramshackle Fort Worth tire shop and lived near him in a rundown apartment block on a dead-end street in Arlington, about a mile from the stately mosque where he prayed every Friday, Wadih el Hage was even-tempered, devout and utterly apolitical.
"I was shocked when I heard that he was arrested for being part of these terrorists," said Mahmoud Mazouni, who worked for el Hage at Lone Star Wheels & Tires and now is trying to run the place until his boss' return. "He never said anything political. Never. You know, he had a wife and seven children, and he was worrying for them all the time. That is what he talked about."
El Hage, 38, was arrested in New York on Wednesday night by federal officials who said he was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, once serving as the wealthy Saudi financier's private secretary, and of many other members of Al Quaeda, the alleged terrorist organization run by bin Laden that federal officials say is responsible for the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa last month.
El Hage is the first U.S. citizen to be charged with being part of bin Laden's terrorist network.
"I just can't believe that it's true," said Mary Silburn, the manager of the Campus South Apartments in Arlington, where el Hage lived with his wife, April Ray, and their four sons and three daughters, ages 12 years to 3 months. "They were very nice, ordinary people."
El Hage's three-bedroom apartment, for which he paid $510 a month, is halfway down a dark, first-floor corridor in a whitewashed, two-story building surrounded by old, rusted cars.
"I have no idea what's going on," his wife said Thursday night, shortly after she had been informed of her husband's arrest. "I'm pretty much shell-shocked. I just barely heard what's going on, and I'm having a hard time dealing with it."
Ms. Silburn said the apartment complex was overrun with reporters and television crews Friday, though el Hage's family declined to talk to anyone. Saturday, no one was answering the door at the apartment, and Ms. Silburn asked reporters to leave the family alone and get off the property.
"She is a proper Muslim wife, so she does not want to say anything, you understand," Mazouni said. "Her feeling is, if you have a question for my husband, you must ask him."
El Hage is being held without bail in New York, charged with two counts of lying to federal officials in their investigations of bin Laden's organization. Officials said more charges against el Hage were likely to be filed in the coming week. Thus far, he has not been charged with any complicity in the Aug. 7 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which left 258 people dead, including 12 Americans.
Federal officials described el Hage as a Lebanese Christian who had converted to Islam.
The authorities said el Hage, who had lived in the Forth Worth area in the 1980s, was with bin Laden in the Sudan in 1994, acting as his private secretary. That year, el Hage moved to Kenya, where he established a gem business and was in contact with other associates of bin Laden. One of them, Haroun Fazil, who shared a house with el Hage in Nairobi, played a role in the Aug. 7 bombings, officials said.
Federal have offered a $2 million reward for information leading to the capture of Fazil.
el Hage returned to the United States in 1997 where he has lived, it is believed, in modest apartments in the same neighborhood near the University of Texas Arlington campus.
In the financial affidavit that el Hage completed at the time of his arrest, he said that his wife was unemployed, that his earnings at the tire store were $1,600 a month and that the only items of value that he owned were a 1981 Honda Prelude and a 1984 Chevy Caprice.
"He has one big car for the children and one little car for himself," Mazouni said.
Tarrant County officials said on Friday that in 1986, when he was living in a working-class neighborhood on the north side of Fort Worth, el Hage was charged with writing $2,400 worth of worthless checks to 22 businesses in a little more than a week.
Before a hearing, el Hage disappeared, but resurfaced in 1992 and posted a $500 bond before disappearing again, officials said. In 1993, the case was closed and the file stamped "the defendant has never been apprehended," the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
How el Hage found his way into bin Laden's employ is unclear, but he was known to anti-terrorist officials by the time he was living in Nairobi in the mid-1990s.
El Hage was questioned by federal agents in October 1997, after his return to Texas, and again Aug. 20, two weeks after the embassy bombings. He is charged with lying to the authorities during those interrogations about his knowledge of some of the principals in the Quaeda organization and faces five years in prison on each of the two counts.
El Hage had managed his business in partnership with Braham Kheidar, the owner of another tire shop, A-Quality Tires and Wheels, in nearby Arlington, Mazouni said. A worker at the Arlington shop said Saturday that Kheidar was out of town and could not be reached.
Saturday, Mazouni looked around the dark, musty tire ship on a commercial stretch of Fort Worth's industrial east side and said he did not know how long he would have to run the place by himself.
"I was here with my television on when the news of the bombings came on the air," Mazouni said. "When el Hage came into the shop, I asked him if he had heard about it, and he said yes, but he showed no emotion and said no more about it. He didn't act like a man who had been involved in it."
El Hage's business cards were still lying on a rack on the tire shop's counter, each one stamped "$2 off next visit," just a few yards from the spot where he knelt and prayed five times each day.
He had left the shop on Monday afternoon and told Mazounithat he was flying to New York for business but would return in two or three days. Mazouni did not know that his employer of six months was responding to a federal subpoena, and did not know of his arrest until informed by reporters Thursday.
"He was always very quiet, very calm," Mazouni said. "Who knows what is going on? Only God knows, as we say in Islam. Not the FBI, not the journalists. Only God."
Copyright The New York Times