- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

AMMAN, Jordan Jordan's military prosecutor Thursday opened the trial of 28 persons accused of links to Osama bin Laden by implicating them in a plot to carry out attacks against U.S. and Israeli targets in this pro-Western Arab kingdom.

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Obeidat said the defendants "plotted to destabilize public security" and "possessed and manufactured explosives" to use unlawfully against U.S. interests and Israeli and American tourists during millennium celebrations.

If found guilty, the 28 face the death penalty.

During Thursday's 75-minute hearing, most of the defendants refused to have the court appoint lawyers to represent them. They also refused to enter pleas and instead accused Col. Obeidat of "falsifying" the charges against them and the court and the Jordanian system of being "infidel."

"You are guilty because you shunned God's doctrine," defendant Khader Abu Hosher, 36, said when Lt. Col. Tayel Raqad, the State Security Court's presiding judge, asked him to enter his plea.

Another defendant, Issam Barqawi, 40, shouted: "We are not terrorists as you claim. We are the followers of God and want his Sharia (Islamic) laws to replace those you enforce, which are submissive to Americans, Jews and Christians."

Col. Raqad, as a result, announced that the defendants entered "innocent pleas." He later adjourned the hearing until May 7, and referred a 17-year-old defendant to a juvenile court because he was underage.

Earlier, Col. Obeidat told the three-man tribunal at the court that the suspects were "affiliated with an outlawed group" involved in a "conspiracy to carry out terrorist attacks."

He did not name the group in the indictment sheet he presented to the court during a public hearing marking the opening trial of the suspects 13 of whom are at large and are being tried in absentia. The 15 others have been in custody since December.

Col. Obeidat had earlier identified the group as al-Qaeda, or "the base," a terrorist organization believed to be headed by bin Laden, the Saudi dissident who has declared holy war against the United States to protest the presence of American troops in his country, which also houses Islam's holiest shrines.

Col. Obeidat said the 28 also belonged to another bin Laden group called the International Islamic Front, whose goal is to fight Jews and Christians. Bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan, is wanted by the United States for the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 persons.

The defendants embraced each other when police removed their handcuffs and escorted them into the small courtroom, guarded by soldiers armed with machine guns. They frequently interrupted the proceedings with the Muslim cry of "Allahu Akbar," or God is Great.

The defendants included 13 Jordanians of Palestinian extraction, one Iraqi and an Algerian. The 13 at large are Jordanians, Palestinians and a Yemeni. They could be hiding in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Britain, Lebanon or Syria, Col. Obeidat said.

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