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Miscast Characters Accused of Plot to Kill George Bush : Kuwait: Iraq's alleged infiltrators--a ragtag crew including a smuggler and nurse--face sentencing today.


The $25-million attack on Iraq's intelligence agency, which also killed six civilians in Baghdad, was warranted under international laws that permit a nation to defend itself against external threats, U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said at the time.

A Western diplomat, who has watched the proceedings here, has drawn a distinction between the information the United States presented earlier and the court testimony here.

"The purpose of this trial in Kuwait is to judge the individual guilt of the people in the dock. The (earlier) purpose of the U.S. was different"--to justify its June attack on Iraq, the diplomat said. "The U.S. investigators came up with an enormous amount of evidence--detonators, microchips and signatures that matched precisely with similar devices of Iraqi design found in Turkey and Abu Dhabi. The evidence was incontrovertible."

But none of that evidence was presented in the testimony that filled a small, stuffy courtroom here, where the 14 defendants, their heads shaved and beards long, watched the proceedings from a black steel cage.

Shatti did explain in considerable detail how Ghazali and Assadi were the ringleaders of the conspiracy; how Ghazali was trained by Iraqi intelligence in the fine art of suicide bombing and terrorist attacks; how Assadi was recruited as his partner in crime and two other Iraqis with family ties in Kuwait as their guides and drivers, and how the high-powered explosives were so deftly hidden in their Land Cruiser that Kuwaiti police missed them during three searches and found them only after Assadi pointed the way.

But Shatti's testimony indicated that only two of the 14 defendants--Assadi and Ghazali--knew of the plot to kill Bush, and he conceded that more than half of the passengers in the vehicle that day had no knowledge that there were explosives in it.

Based on their own testimony and that of Shatti, a picture has emerged of the curious collection of amateurs who allegedly were out to kill Bush.

Typical of what amounted to little more than human cargo in the booby-trapped Land Cruiser and an accompanying utility vehicle that crossed from Iraq into Kuwait with Assadi and Ghazali last April was Accused No. 3: Salem Nassir Shammari.

The 34-year-old driver from the sleepy Iraqi town of Zubayr, who is among the five defendants Shatti did identify as Mukhabarat agents, giggled when a Kuwaiti judge asked him why he looked familiar.

"I have been sentenced to prison 15 times in Kuwait, your honor," Shammari said, adding that each time he was caught by Kuwaiti police it was for possession or sale of liquor, which is banned under the emirate's strict Islamic laws.

When pressed on his involvement, he just shook his head and smiled blankly. "I didn't even know the word detonator or booby-trap until I heard it from the investigators," he said at one point.

Then there was Ali Baddai Abid, a frail, white-bearded 73-year-old who limped from the courtroom cage to stand before the judges.

He testified that he accompanied the group only to ask for money from his relatives in Kuwait.

Asked why he had told investigators a different story months before, Abid replied, "I didn't know what I was saying because I was being beaten," a charge that a court-appointed doctor later denied.

Defendant Adel Ismail Otaibi--who, like Abid and seven others, never was linked in testimony to the Mukhabarat--similarly said he paid for a seat on the trip only to visit his two daughters married to Kuwaitis. He too appeared astounded at the charges against him.

At one point, the 44-year-old grocer also from the southern Iraqi town of Zubayr tried to underscore his bewilderment by telling the judges: "I love Bush. All people of the south of Iraq love Bush."

As the anchor of the team of miscasts, Ghazali was perfect. Not only did the 36-year-old have no experience with explosives or with the much-feared Iraqi intelligence service, he had actually joined in a rebellion against Saddam Hussein after the Persian Gulf War.

Ghazali is from Najaf, the Shiite Muslim holy city that was a hotbed of the postwar uprising against Hussein; the Iraqi strongman brutally crushed the revolt there in the days after his army fled Kuwait.

Ghazali told the Kuwaiti court of his helplessness when a messenger informed him that the Mukhabarat wanted to see him in the southern Iraqi city of Basra last April 9. Iraq's intelligence service, he testified, put him in a hotel and recruited him.

"They told me to kill Bush," a quivering Ghazali said on the trial's opening day.

Later, Ghazali testified that Iraqi intelligence agents taught him how to detonate the Land Cruiser, which American sources said was outfitted with three sophisticated detonators and enough explosives to leave a crater four football fields in diameter. He said the agents taught him how to use a suicide belt loaded with explosives. Kuwaiti police never found the belt.

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