NEW YORK -- Federal prosecutors in New York charged a Tanzanian man yesterday with helping to carry out the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in his country last year, which along with a nearly simultaneous attack in Nairobi, Kenya, killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.
The suspect, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 26, was arrested in Cape Town, South Africa, this week and flown to New York, where he was arraigned yesterday before a U.S. district judge in Manhattan.
Mohamed entered a plea of innocent to the charges, which also accuse him of conspiring with others in an international terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is the Saudi exile suspected by authorities of devising the embassy attacks. He remains at large.
Mohamed is the first of the nine fugitives indicted in the case to be arrested, and the first defendant in custody in New York to be accused of a direct role in planning and carrying out the attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Others in custody in New York are accused of carrying out the attack in Kenya.
In the months leading up to the bombings Aug. 7, 1998, the indictments charge, Mohamed rented a house in Dar es Salaam that the conspirators used as their base of operations and also as a bomb factory.
Minutes after the explosion, Mohamed photographed the embassy ruins from inside a Suzuki Samurai, which he had rented for use in the plot, the indictment charges.
Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said that Mohamed had been living in Cape Town under an assumed name, and that his arrest should serve as "a stark reminder to all of those who played any role in the horrific terrorist bombings of our embassies" that authorities "literally around the world will not stop investigating, searching, capturing and prosecuting until all responsible are brought to justice."
The director of the New York office of the FBI, Lewis Schiliro, said that the investigation leading to the arrest of Mohamed included months of "old-fashioned, persistent and dogged police work" by agents of the FBI and New York police detectives who had gone to Cape Town.
After learning that Mohamed might be in Cape Town, the investigators did an exhaustive records check, and confirmed his identity and location. Though the officials refused to say how they had learned Mohamed was in the country, a South African official said that the suspect had fled to the country a few days after the bombings, and had entered illegally under the false name Zahran Nassor Maulid.
Sipho Ngwema, a spokesman for South Africa's Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions, said last night that Mohamed had applied for political asylum in South Africa under pretenses and was granted a temporary permit.
He was arrested Tuesday after he went for a scheduled visit to an immigration office to extend his temporary permit, Ngwema said, and was then turned over to U.S. authorities.
In court yesterday, Mohamed sat quietly in blue prison clothes, speaking softly in English when Judge Leonard Sand asked whether he had understood the nature of the charges.
But, in one exchange, Mohamed twice said no, that he did not understand the charges.
Sand asked, "What is it that you don't understand, Mr. Mohamed?"
Mohamed replied, "No, I do understand -- things which used to make a bomb."
His comment drew raised eyebrows around the courtroom, but it was not clear whether he was admitting that he had knowledge of how to make a bomb, or merely understood that it was one of the charges.