The first witness in the East Africa Embassy bombing trial is likely to be a Saudi businessman who provided U.S. authorities with its first look inside Osama bin Laden’s network. The witness, described by U.S. sources as a brother-in-law of bin Laden’s, reportedly will give evidence of the alleged terror kingpin’s role in the killing of 18 U.S. servicemen in Somalia in 1993.
THE WITNESS IS EXPECTED to begin testifying Tuesday and continue for several days. Opening statements in the trial took place on Monday.
The businessman, known as CS-1 for “Confidential Source-1,” worked as an accountant for bin Laden in Saudi Arabia and Sudan from 1989 through 1996. Federal prosecutors said on Monday that the source stole money from bin Laden and ultimately pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.
It is not known whether the identity of the witness, who uses several aliases, will be revealed in court Tuesday.
It is believed that he was recruited at least in part by the CIA. According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the man has provided the U.S. government with detailed information on the workings of al Qaeda, bin Laden’s alleged terror network, and on bin Laden’s alleged role in the killing of American servicemen in Somalia.
In an affidavit, the source stated that for seven years, ending in 1996, “I was a member of al Qaeda, an organization founded by Osama bin Laden. In order to become a member I took an oath of allegiance, or ‘bayat,’ pledging my loyalty to follow the orders of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.”
DETAILS OF GROUP INFRASTRUCTURE
The group’s purpose, the affidavit says, was to “attempt to fight Western governments (including Israel and the United States) and overthrow governments in Muslim countries which were not deemed to be Islamically correct.”
The source is expected to focus on the group’s infrastructure and its use of front companies and organizations to conceal the group’s activities, which the source had personal knowledge of from his time as bin laden’s accountant. “Al Qaeda had a command-and-control structure, which included a ‘majlis al shura’ (or consultation council), which discussed and approved major undertakings such as an effort to attack American targets, an endeavor in which I have admitted to participating,” the source said in the affidavit.
He disclosed that the council also had a “fatwah” committee that issued rulings on what “was permitted or required under the group’s interpretation of Islam.”
The source also talked about how the leadership of al Qaeda had regularly scheduled meetings which he attended.
Regarding the use of front companies, the source said bin Laden used port facilities at Port Sudan to importexplosives and other weapons and that he attempted to use agricultural companies as fronts to purchase chemicals for the purpose “of accumulating explosives and chemical weapons.”
DETAILS OF SOMALIA KILLINGS
Specifically regarding the killing of Americans in Somalia, the source has told the U.S. government he was aware of planning for the attack on Americans and quoted bin Laden’s military commander as saying “al Qaeda forces were responsible for all the American military personnel killed in Somalia,” according to another affidavit in the case.
The Americans were targeted, the source said, because bin Laden feared the United States was planning to use Somalia a base for attacking Sudan and its radical Islamic regime.
At least one part of the affidavit could prove embarrassing to the U.S. government. In it, the source wrote about how in 1992 bin Laden and other ranking members of al Qaeda talked privately about how U.S. forces stationed in both Saudi Arabia and Yemen should be attacked.
U.S. officials have been criticized over their decision to sent the USS Cole into Aden harbor in Yemen last October when 17 sailors were killed in a terrorist attack.
Robert Windrem is an investigative producer for NBC News.