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24 September 1998
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The New York Times
A Texan who worked as a close aide to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile suspected in the embassy bombings last month in Africa, was ordered held without bond yesterday after the authorities accused him of buying firearms for a defendant convicted in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan also asserted that the Texan, Wadih el Hage, was linked to El Sayyid Nosair, who was convicted on Federal charges in the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990 and convicted in 1995 of conspiracy in a plot to blow up New York City landmarks.
The Government also said Mr. el Hage was connected to the disappearance and death of at least two other people in New York and Arizona in recent years.
The new allegations were issued in a bail hearing in Federal District Court in which Magistrate Judge Leonard Bernikow agreed with Government arguments that Mr. el Hage, who has been at the Metropolitan Correction Center, might flee.
Mr. el Hage was charged with 11 counts of lying in the investigation into Mr. bin Laden and his organization, al Qaeda.
In making the assertions a prosecutor offered few specifics, and added nothing to establish that Mr. el Hage had a direct role in the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, in which more than 250 people died and hundreds were injured. The prosecutor did say Mr. el Hage was a close associate of two men accused in the bombing, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, who was arrested last month, and Haroun Fazil, a fugitive.
As a result the allegations deepened the mystery surrounding Mr. el Hage, 38, who manages a tire shop in Fort Worth. He was arrested last week.
Mr. el Hage, an American citizen, has emerged as a critical figure in the inquiry, and the charges may be a calculated attempt to put pressure on him to cooperate with the authorities.
Mr. el Hage said nothing in court yesterday. His lawyer, Bruce McIntyre, rejected the Government's assertions, saying that Mr. el Hage, the father of 7 children, voluntarily traveled to New York last week when the Federal Bureau of Investigation subpoenaed him and that he was unlikely to flee.
Mr. McIntyre said that Mr. bin Laden was someone who also had "legitimate commercial interests" and that Mr. el Hage had worked for Mr. bin Laden in connection with those interests, and "not his terrorist activities."
Mr. McIntyre added that his client had not been charged with terrorism, saying, "Mr. el Hage is not charged with any violent acts."
An assistant United States attorney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, depicted Mr. el Hage as an active international terrorist whose incentive would only be to flee.
"The secret is out about his involvement with the group," Mr. Fitzpatrick said. "The organization knows how to extract people."
Mr. Fitzpatrick told the magistrate that Mr. el Hage had been an extremely valuable associate of Mr. bin Laden because he had obtained his United States citizenship and was able to travel more freely than others in the bin Laden organization.
Mr. Fitzgerald also told Magistrate Bernikow that Mr. el Hage was adept at obtaining illegal travel documents for other members of al Qaeda. The prosecutor added that in terrorist attacks on United States and United Nations forces in Somalia in 1993 and the 1994, Mr. el Hage "helped support some of those people with passports and the ability to travel."
In linking Mr. el Hage to other cases of terrorism and murder, Mr. Fitzgerald offered little elaboration and did not suggest that Mr. el Hage was involved in the World Trade Center bombing or the other deaths. But he appeared to be raising questions about Mr. el Hage's associations.
Mr. Fitzgerald said at one point that Mr. el Hage had "made an effort to obtain firearms" for Mahmoud Abouhalima, who was convicted in the World Trade Center bombing, in which six people died and hundreds were injured. Mr. Fitzgerald indicated, however, that after Mr. el Hage had bought the guns, Mr. Abouhalima never picked them up.
Mr. Fitzgerald did not say when the purchases occurred or whether they were connected to the plot to blow up the Trade Center or any other conspiracy.
In asserting that Mr. el Hage had contact with Mr. Nosair, the prosecutor offered no details about the nature or timing of such an association.
Mr. Nosair was acquitted of the murder of Rabbi Kahane after a state trial in 1991. But he was convicted in the death on a Federal charge of murder in aid of racketeering in 1996. In 1995, Mr. Nosair was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, along with Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and other defendants, for plotting a series of bombings of landmarks in New York.
Mr. Fitzgerald also suggested that the Government had evidence that indirectly tied Mr. el Hage to a mysterious death in 1991 in Brooklyn. He said that Mr. el Hage had gone to New York that year to direct the Alkifah Refugee Center. The center, based in Brooklyn, raised money and recruited and trained fighters in support of the rebels in the Afghan war.
The day that Mr. el Hage arrived, Mr. Fitzgerald said, the man who had run the center, Mustafa Shalabi, disappeared. About a week later he was found slain.
In a fourth case in the early 90's, Mr. Fitzgerald said, Mr. el Hage had helped a man who was conducting surveillance on a radical Islamic leader in Arizona. The leader was later slain, Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Copyright 1998 The New York Times