Indictment of Osama Bin Laden

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Indictment of Osama Bin Laden

Bombings of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya


By: Mary Jo White

Date: November 4, 1998

Source: United States of America v Osama bin Laden.

About the Author: Mary Jo White is a U.S. Attorney.


In November 1998, the United States Federal Court issued an indictment of Osama Bin Laden and four of his associates for their involvement in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998. Two truck bombs had exploded outside the embassies, killing a total of more than 200 people and injuring more than 4,500, many of them African civilians. The Islamic terrorist organization al-Qaeda (ahl-KY-duh), which is led by Bin Laden, claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Al-Qaeda was formed in 1989 from Islamist volunteers including Bin Laden, who had gone to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union's invasion and occupation of the country. When the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan, Bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian national, returned to his own country. He protested the Saudi government's policy of allowing U.S. troops into the country during the Gulf War with Iraq in 1990, objecting to the presence of "infidel" armies in Arab lands. As a result, he was expelled from the country and fled to Sudan. There he established the first al-Qaeda training camps and made alliances with Islamic militant groups around the world, until he was removed by the Government for his alleged involvement in terrorist activities.

Bin Laden then fled to Afghanistan, where he lived under the protection of the Taliban, an extremist fundamentalist Islamic group that took over the country in 1996. Bin Laden provided the Taliban with funds and fighters, and was in return allowed to establish a number of camps for the terrorist training of al-Qaeda members from around the world. In February 1998, Bin Laden and other Islamist extremist leaders issued a fatwa, or religious edict, stating that "to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it." The bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam was the first major terrorist attack against the U.S. following the announcement of the fatwa.

As a response to the bombings, U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered Operation Infinite Reach, a series of military strikes against targets associated with Bin Laden. On August 20, 1998, terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and an alleged chemical-weapons factory in Sudan were hit by U.S. cruise missiles.

Investigations into the embassy bombings were conducted by the FBI and by Kenyan and Tanzanian authorities and a number of suspects were identified. In November 1998, Bin Laden and co-defendants Wadih el Hage, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali were indicted by a U.S. grand jury in New York court for the bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The indictment accused Bin Laden of heading a terrorist conspiracy to kill members of U.S. armed forces in Saudi Arabia and Somalia and U.S. nationals employed at the Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It was alleged that the conspiracy had been concealed by the establishment of front companies, the provision of false identity and travel documents, the use of coded correspondence and the provision of false information to the authorities. According to the indictment, al-Qaeda was assumed to be functioning both on its own and in collaboration with other terrorist organizations including Al Jihad group and the Islamic Group (Gamaa Islamia). It was held to have established cells and recruited members in a number of countries including in Kenya, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and the United States to further its activities, and to have made alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with representatives of the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah.

Bin Laden and the co-conspirators were specifically accused of establishing al-Qaeda training camps, recruiting U.S. citizens to al-Qaeda, purchasing weapons and explosives and establishing headquarters and businesses in the Sudan. The indictment also alleged that fatwahs were issued that ordered the killing of Americans, and that the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were conducted as part of the conspiracy to kill American nationals.

In May 2001, following a four-month trial in a U.S. Federal Court in New York City, the four codefendants named in the Indictment were charged with bombing the two embassies, causing the deaths of more than 200 people and injuring more than 4,500. Each received a life sentence and was ordered to pay $7 million to the victims' families and $26 million to the U.S. government.

Two former al-Qaeda members, Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl and L'Houssaine Kherchtou, testified as key witnesses in the trial, and provided detailed information about the international al-Qaeda network. Another former member, Ali Mohamed, did not testify but provided additional information about the organization. He had been the first person to plead guilty to charges of involvement in the embassy bombings and admitted conducting surveillance of U.S., British, and French targets in Nairobi, including the U.S. embassy, and delivering pictures and reports to Bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda has continued to carry out major terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies. These have included the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004, and the attacks on the public transport network in London on July 7, 2005.



At all relevant times from in or about 1989 until the date of the filing of this Indictment, an international terrorist group existed which was dedicated to opposing non-Islamic governments with force and violence. This organization grew out of the "mekhtab al khidemat" (the "Services Office") organization which had maintained offices in various parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan (particularly in Peshawar) and the United States, particularly at the Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York. The group was founded by defendants USAMA BIN LADEN and MUHAMMAD ATEF, a/k/a "Abu Hafs al Masry," together with "Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri" and others. From in or about 1989 until the present, the group called itself "al Qaeda" ("the Base"). From 1989 until in or about 1991, the group (hereafter referred to as "al Qaeda") was headquartered in Afghanistan and Peshawar, Pakistan. In or about 1991, the leadership of al Qaeda, including its "emir" (or prince) defendant USAMA BIN LADEN, relocated to the Sudan. Al Qaeda was headquartered in the Sudan from approximately 1991 until approximately 1996 but still maintained offices in various parts of the world. In 1996, defendants USAMA BIN LADEN and MUHAMMAD ATEF and other members of al Qaeda relocated to Afghanistan. At all relevant times, al Qaeda was led by its emir, defendant USAMA BIN LADEN. Members of al Qaeda pledged an oath of allegiance (called a "bayat") to defendant USAMA BIN LADEN and al Qaeda. Those who were suspected of collaborating against al Qaeda were to be identified and killed.

Al Qaeda opposed the United States for several reasons. First, the United States was regarded as an "infidel" because it was not governed in a manner consistent with the group's extremist interpretation of Islam. Second, the United States was viewed as providing essential support for other "infidel" governments and institutions, particularly the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the nation of Israel and the United Nations organization, which were regarded as enemies of the group. Third, al Qaeda opposed the involvement of the United States armed forces in the Gulf War in 1991 and in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992 and 1993, which were viewed by al Qaeda as pretextual preparations for an American occupation of Islamic countries. In particular, al Qaeda opposed the continued presence of American military forces in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere on the Saudi Arabian peninsula) following the Gulf War. Fourth, al Qaeda opposed the United States Government because of the arrest, conviction and imprisonment of persons belonging to al Qaeda or its affiliated terrorist groups or with whom it worked, including Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.

One of the principal goals of al Qaeda was to drive the United States armed forces out of Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere on the Saudi Arabian peninsula) and Somalia by violence. Members of al Qaeda issued fatwahs (rulings on Islamic law) indicating that such attacks were both proper and necessary.

Counts One Through Six: Conspiracies To Murder, Bomb And Maim

Count One

Conspiracy To Kill United States Nationals It was a part and an object of said conspiracy that the defendants, and others known and unknown, would and did: (i) murder United States nationals anywhere in the world, including in the United States, (ii) kill United States nationals employed by the United States military who were serving in their official capacity in Somalia and on the Saudi Arabian peninsula; (iii) kill United States nationals employed at the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, including internationally protected persons, as that term is defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1116(b)(4); and (iv) engage in conduct to conceal the activities and means and methods of the co-conspirators by, among other things, establishing front companies, providing false identity and travel documents, engaging in coded correspondence, providing false information to the authorities in various countries and seeking to detect and kill informants.


The bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was one of the major anti-American terrorist incidents that preceded the attacks of September 11, 2001. It was also one of the first significant demonstrations of transnational terrorism. U.S. citizens were attacked on foreign soil in Kenya and Tanzania by a terrorist organization which was becoming increasingly global in its presence.

Before the formation of al-Qaeda, most terrorist movements had been tightly knit and linked to specific geographical locations. In contrast, al-Qaeda has developed into a loosely knit organization linking numerous groups or "cells" in at least 50 countries, not only in the Middle East and Asia, but also in Africa, North America and Europe. These cells are considered to have a high degree of independence from the center both in their activities and their administration. Many experts now regard al-Qaeda more as a sharing of ideology, aims, and methods than a specific organization. The ideology is Islamist and anti-western: Bin Laden and his followers call for driving the United States and Israel out of the Muslim world, and to replace moderate Islamic governments with fundamentalist rule.

The original al-Qaeda structure that was developed in Afghanistan has now been destroyed and many of its members have been captured, killed, or dispersed around the world. Yet, support organizations continue to form and become identified, due to their diffuse structure and the presence of active cells in so many countries.

The embassy bombings were also one of the first demonstrations of the use of suicide bombers and everyday means of transport as weapons to inflict thousands of casualties in a coordinated attack on more than one target. This foreshadowed the major attacks on Western countries that would follow in the years to come, particularly the September 11, 2001. In these attacks, 19 young men, mostly Saudi Arabian nationals, hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, killing some 3,000 people. The scale of the September 11 attacks, in particular, gave international terrorism a new political and strategic significance in global politics, and has raised security concerns worldwide.

The U.S. military response to the Embassy bombings also foreshadowed an increasing emphasis on armed retaliation against major terrorist attacks. When the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden to the USA for trial following the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush declared a war against terrorism and invaded Afghanistan, fully supported by the United Nations. The Taliban was subsequently defeated, but as of mid-July 2005, Osama Bin Laden has not been captured.


Web sites

BBC News. "US embassies hit in African blast." (August 7, 1998) <> (accessed July 10, 2005).

Hearings, 107th Senate. "The Global Reach of al-Qaeda." Joyner Library <> (accessed July 10, 2005).

PBS. "Frontline: Hunting Bin Laden." <> (accessed July 10, 2005).

U.S. Department of State. "Bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: August 7, 1998." <> (accessed July 10, 2005).