For 15 years, he had an inside look at a terrorist operation and its notorious leader Usama bin Laden.
Recruited off the streets of New York City, where he worked bagging groceries, Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl became a foot soldier for bin Laden in 1986 in his holy war against America.
Al-Fadl fought in Afghanistan, trained in Sudan and learned the inner workings of the terrorist network whose members were willing to give their lives for the cause of making fundamentalist Islam the world's dominant religion.
But by this year, al-Fadl had fallen out of favor with bin Laden and landed back in New York — in court.
This time, he served as the government's key witness in the trial of the U.S. embassy bombings, which bin Laden is believed to have masterminded.
His testimony was a coup for government prosecutors who, in July, successfully put four men behind bars for life for the deadly 1998 twin bombings in East Africa that killed 219 people, including 12 Americans.
But for intelligence experts, the information al-Fadl revealed in the trial provided a first important window into bin Laden's Al Qaeda network that they continue to study today for clues that may shed light on the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"The testimony was absolutely critical," said Michael Swetnam, a counterterrorism specialist at the Washington-based Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. "This brought to light a tremendous amount of information on bin Laden that will be useful for a long time."
In open court, al-Fadl detailed Al Qaeda's pyramid structure of committees, its business holdings, how it moved money and arms around the world and the pledges members took to oust Soviet troops from Afghanistan and later, U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and Somalia.
Just as crucial for intelligence experts were the dozens of people al-Fadl identified in bin Laden's inner circle — several of whom appeared on a list of individuals whose assets were frozen last week by President Bush because of their ties to bin Laden.
In 1986, the Sudanese-born al-Fadl was a 23-year-old foreign student in the United States on a visa to study English in Atlanta. After a few months, he wound up bagging groceries in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, where he could make money and be near a thriving Muslim community.
There, like many young Muslim men, he was recruited through a local mosque to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets. In camps along the Pakistan-Afghan border, he learned to use grenade launchers, build bombs, fight, and pray with Islamic fundamentalists. It is also where he first met bin Laden.
"He talked about the Soviet Union army coming to Afghanistan and killing people and we have to help them [Afghanistan], we have to make jihad," al-Fadl recalled in federal court on Feb. 6 this year.
When asked for his explanation of jihad, al-Fadl, a dark-haired, bearded man who wore a white-knit skullcap in court, said, "Jihad is war for Muslims, it means fighting the enemy."
After the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, bin Laden's anger shifted toward the United States and his operations moved to Sudan.
Al-Fadl went with him, returning to his homeland to scout out business interests and interview new recruits. Over the next five years, he traveled on false passports to Jordan, Egypt, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Kenya, moving cash, documents and messages to operatives around the world.
In 1993 — when Israel and the PLO were signing an historic peace accord — he delivered $100,000 in cash to Al Qaeda networks inside the Palestinian territories and neighboring Jordan, he told the court.
According to the testimony, Al Qaeda training camps were set up in Sudan and Lebanon while allegiances were strengthened with insurgency groups throughout the Muslim world. Arms were smuggled on camelback to operatives in Egypt, on ships to Yemen, on planes from Afghanistan. Money was hidden at Barclays in London and at banks in Malaysia and Hong Kong.
In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum meanwhile, bin Laden held Thursday-night lectures for his followers at the Al Qaeda compound issuing fatwas, or edicts, against the United States.
"One said we cannot let the American army stay in the [Persian] Gulf area and take our oil and take our money, and we have to do something to take them out. We have to fight them," al-Fadl recalled, according to the transcripts of court testimony.
Shortly after U.S. troops landed in Somalia in December 1992 for Operation Restore Hope, bin Laden issued a new edict.
"We got another fatwa because the American army had come to the home of Africa, to Somalia," Al-Fadl said. He said bin Laden sent fighters from his flock to battle U.S. troops there.
Those that came back were rewarded with salary increases and new homes.
From al-Fadl's testimony, those benefits — and the jealousies they fueled — appear to be the only crack within the Al Qaeda system.
Al-Fadl admitted in court that after repeatedly complaining to bin Laden about pay inequities and a perception that Egyptians were more likely to be promoted than others, he stole money from Al Qaeda and fled.
He unsuccessfully sought protection in Syria, in Saudi Arabia and had even tried to reach out to the Israelis. Finally he went to U.S. diplomats in Nigeria.
After dozens of interviews to establish his story and credibility, he helped government prosecutors build their case against bin Laden.
In return, the U.S. government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his safety, finding him a place in the federal witness protection program, where he remains today.
Experts say the costs are worth it.
"It's a really rare person who walks into a U.S. embassy with good knowledge and who is credible," said Dan Goure, a counterterrorism expert at the Washington-based Lexington Institute.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.