- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) His hair and beard are wild and woolly, his eyes dark and hollow, his frame bony. Though 40, he says he's a college freshman living in the 1970s and can't remember his wife and children. He managed a tire shop in suburban Texas but has trotted the globe with stops in Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meet Wadih Hage U.S. citizen and one of four men going on trial today in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Prosecutors say Mr. Hage was a personal secretary to wealthy Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the suspected engineer of the attacks, which killed 224 persons, including 12 Americans, in Kenya and Tanzania. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Besides Mr. Hage, the other defendants include Mohammed Sadeek Odeh, 35, of Jordan, who reportedly told investigators that shortly before the bombing he had met with an explosives specialist who led a Kenyan terrorism cell. He also faces a potential life sentence if convicted.

Two others Mohammed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, 24, of Saudi Arabia and Khalfan Khamis Mohammed, 27, of Tanzania could be sentenced to death.

All the defendants have been portrayed as militants willing to go to any extreme to carry out bin Laden's holy war, or jihad, against the "enemies of God."

But Mr. Hage stands apart.

For one, he is the only U.S. citizen among the defendants. Former co-workers and neighbors in Arlington, Texas, described him as a hard-working family man.

He also has distinguished himself since his 1998 arrest by complaining loudly and constantly that he is an innocent victim of guilt-by-association, jailhouse abuse and, most recently, mental illness and amnesia. Frustrated by conditions in a federal lockup, he jumped up in court last summer and dashed at U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand before being tackled by federal marshals.

Judge Sand ordered Mr. Hage to undergo psychological examinations after defense attorneys told him that more than two years of solitary confinement and strip searches had left their client too distressed and disoriented to aid in his own defense. They produced a copy of a rambling, handwritten letter in which Mr. Hage asked his wife if she was "part of the game that is being played on me and other foreign students… . I was kidnapped from my school and brought here against my will."

But prosecutors portray Mr. Hage as a calculating malingerer whose U.S. citizenship only made him more dangerous. He was "chosen by bin Laden to work for him because he had a United States passport and could travel more freely," Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said.

At a recent hearing, two psychiatrists and a psychologist agreed that Mr. Hage does not have a major mental disorder. Mr. Fitzgerald told the judge the defendant "should just knock it off, work with his counsel and proceed."

Mr. Hage was born in Lebanon in 1960 and raised as a Catholic. In the late 1970s, he enrolled in the University of Southwestern Louisiana.

His sister has said it was around that time that Mr. Hage surprised the family by announcing his conversion to Islam. "He just said it was a better religion," the sister, Samia, said in a 1998 interview.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in urban planning in 1986, Mr. Hage worked a variety of jobs in Tucson, Ariz. He married a woman named April Ray, who also converted to Islam, and became a U.S. citizen in 1989.

By the time of his arrest nearly 10 years later, he was living with his wife and seven children in a drab three-bedroom apartment in Arlington, managing Lone Star Wheels & Tires.

Co-workers recall his religious devotion, with one saying Mr. Hage knelt in the tire shop to pray five times a day.

Mr. Hage's attorney, Sam Schmidt, has described his client as a "respected and uncontroversial member of the Muslim community." The defense concedes he worked for bin Laden, but only in the millionaire's legitimate businesses not his Al Qaeda terrorist organization.

Prosecutors say Mr. Hage was circulating in a shadowy world where militant Muslims were locked in a bloody power struggle over the direction of their holy war.

Investigators claim that during the early 1990s, Mr. Hage harbored a man sent to Arizona to conduct surveillance on a Muslim cleric who was later stabbed to death, took over operation of a Brooklyn refugee center around the same time its director a rival of blind Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman turned up dead in another unsolved murder and agreed to buy guns in Texas for a follower of Abdel-Rahman who was convicted in the World Trade Center bombing.

In late 1992, Mr. Hage left the country with his family to work for bin Laden in the Sudan and Kenya. He carried business cards saying he was director of a relief organization named Africa Help.

Prosecutors say that the organization was a front for the Kenyan cell of Al Qaeda, and that behind the scenes Mr. Hage was traveling the world raising money, securing false passports and shopping for weapons.

By 1997, Mr. Hage had returned to the United States and settled in Arlington.

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