Bin Laden Pilot Details Private Jet Crash

ByABC News
February 14, 2001, 8:32 PM

N E W   Y O R K, Feb. 14 -- A former pilot for Osama bin Laden testifiedtoday that the alleged terrorist sought an aircraft big enoughto carry Stinger missiles in his war on Americans, but settled fora cheaper model that crash-landed in Sudan.

The pilot, Essam Al-Ridi, told a jury in federal court inManhattan that he was at the controls when bin Laden's private jetcame down at an airport in Khartoum after a 1993 test flight. Hisfirst instinct was to make sure the craft's only other occupant,the co-pilot, was unharmed.

"My second thought was to leave Khartoum as soon as I could,"Al-Ridi said.

Al-Ridi, an Egyptian who became a U.S. citizen, fled Sudan andlater agreed to testify about bin Laden's terrorist organization,al Qaeda, at the trial of four men accused of bombing U.S.embassies in Africa in 1988.

The twin blasts in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania which prosecutors say were orchestrated by bin Laden killed 224people, including 12 Americans.

Conspirators Could Face Life Sentences

Wadih El-Hage, 40, of Arlington, Texas, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh,35, could get life sentences if convicted of conspiracy. MohamedRashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, 24, and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, couldface the death penalty if convicted of murder conspiracy.

Testifying in the trial's second week, Al-Ridi identifiedEl-Hage as a key associate of bin Laden, who is believed to be inhiding in Afghanistan.

Later in the day, a second witness, Ashif Mohamed Juma,identified El-Hage as a man who came to Tanzania in 1996 toidentify the body of Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri, bin Laden's allegedmilitary commander, after he died in a ferry accident.

The first witness who was trained at a Texas flight school said he met El-Hage and bin Laden after deciding to join the Muslimstruggle against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. While travelingthe globe, he bought night-vision equipment, high-powered riflesand scuba gear for the Afghan rebels and, later, al Qaeda.