NAIROBI, Kenya – Prosecutors in the trial of three men suspected of conspiring to blow up a tourist hotel and shoot down an Israeli airliner in Kenya (search) began their case Wednesday with witnesses laying the groundwork for the case.
Five farmers who live near the airport in the port city of Mombasa (search) separately said they saw a plane flying over them and two objects releasing heavy smoke follow it early Nov. 28, 2002.
Prosecutors have charged Said Saggar Ahmed, Salmin Mohammed Khamis and Kubwa Mohammed Seif with conspiracy in four cases. These are the Nov. 28, 2002 bombing of Paradise Hotel (search) north of Mombasa, which killed 15 people, including three Israeli tourists; the nearly simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner; an alleged plot to destroy the new U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in June; and the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which killed 219 people, including 12 Americans.
All three have pleaded innocent to the charges, but at least one of the suspects, Khamis, reportedly admitted taking part in the plot to destroy the new embassy shortly after he was arrested in June.
A local Kenyan administrator, Haddadi Ali Nuri, identified Fazul Abdullah Mohammed from a FBI list of most wanted terrorists as an Islamic preacher called Abdul Karim who stayed in the area for four months and later married Seif's daughter.
Nuri told prosecutor Edwin Okello, "I've never seen Abdul Karim again (since February 2003) and don't know where he is."
Mohammed is the alleged mastermind of the Nov. 28, 2002 attacks and has been indicted by a U.S. court for his role in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network claimed responsibility for the attacks in November 2002 as well as the August 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam.
Ahmed, Khamis and Seif were among nine originally charged with murder in the hotel bombing. Murder charges were also dropped against two other suspects.
Okello told The Associated Press he was going to call about 40 witnesses. The trial will continue Thursday and then adjourn for an undetermined time.