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Most of Terrorism Expert's Testimony Is Barred


A terrorism expert was barred Monday from telling a federal jury that evidence seized from accused bomb smuggler Ahmed Ressam's Montreal apartment links Ressam to Islamic militant Osama bin Laden.

The testimony, before a federal judge in Los Angeles without the jury present, marked the first time that authorities have publicly disclosed alleged ties between Ressam and Bin Laden. Authorities consider Bin Laden responsible for anti-U.S. attacks, including the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people.

French prosecutor Jean-Louis Bruguiere told the court of Ressam's alleged ties to other suspected terrorists, and spoke of his alleged role in a Montreal-based extremist group linked to Bin Laden.

But U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said the jury would not be allowed to hear most of Bruguiere's testimony.

After listening to Bruguiere for several hours, Coughenour agreed with Ressam's lawyers, who said such testimony would be unfairly prejudicial to their client.

Ressam, 33, is charged with conspiring with others to smuggle explosives across the U.S. border for the purpose of committing a terrorist act. He faces more than 100 years in prison if convicted.

"Given the extraordinary prestige of the witness in the area of international terrorism, the force of his testimony would carry with it the risk that jurors would not focus on the facts in this case," Coughenour said.

Bruguiere is France's top counter-terrorism authority and an "investigating magistrate" with 20 years of experience at interrogating and prosecuting terrorists around the world.

He will be allowed to testify, but only about issues of specific fact, including what authorities seized Oct. 4, 1999, from a Montreal apartment used by Ressam and other alleged members of an Algerian extremist group.

That search, which occurred three months before Ressam's arrest in Port Angeles, Wash., with a car trunk full of explosives, was based on a warrant obtained by Bruguiere through Canadian authorities.

Bruguiere had traveled to Montreal to question Ressam about his alleged role in terrorist attacks committed years earlier in France by the extremist group. Bruguiere later brought charges in France against Ressam and 23 other men. A verdict in the French case is expected this week.

Prosecutors had considered Bruguiere's testimony crucial to establishing that Ressam is a terrorist linked not only to the Algerian organization, but to a global network of violent Islamic extremist cells.

Defense lawyers have said Ressam was an unwitting courier who was manipulated by others into carrying the explosives across the border so they could be used to attack millennium celebrations on or about New Year's Day 2000.

On Monday, Bruguiere testified that the search of a Montreal apartment turned up an address book with Ressam's fingerprints on it, which contained names, addresses and telephone numbers written in secret code.

Authorities also found a letter sent by Mustafa Labsi--a close friend of Ressam and an alleged co-conspirator in the bomb plot--that included information on how to break the codes.

Authorities determined that the address book listed the post office box in Peshawar, Pakistan, of a top Bin Laden aide who uses the nom de guerre Abu Zubayda.

Zubayda, whose real name is Zein al-Abideen Muhammad Hassan, has been described by U.S. intelligence officials as a high-ranking member of Bin Laden's organization.

He is said to have acted until recently as Bin Laden's liaison with terrorist cells throughout the world.

He also allegedly screens those seeking to join the jihad, or Islamic holy war, at his Peshawar guest house and decides if they should be allowed into the training camps and for what purpose.

Also listed in the book were the names and addresses of other top Bin Laden aides, including Dr. Haydar Abou Doha, who was arrested recently in London after an investigation into terrorism there. He was living, according to Bruguiere, with Labsi--the former roommate and suspected accomplice of Ressam in the alleged bomb plot.

Also, when Ressam was arrested, Bruguiere testified, authorities found on him a slip of paper that they only recently concluded was the coded name and phone number of another suspected Bin Laden operative in Pakistan named Abou Jaffar.

Prosecutors say Ressam spent at least several months in such terrorist training camps before returning to Montreal in February 1999.

Back in Montreal, Ressam and others continued to congregate at the apartment, which Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven Gonzalez said Monday served as a base of operations for a terrorist organization that had "spread throughout the international scene."

Given his experience learned in the camps, Ressam eventually assumed a leadership role, Bruguiere said.

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