A Jordanian who claims to have briefly been Osama bin Laden's bodyguard told a German court Wednesday that the Al Qaeda leader bragged long before the Sept. 11 attacks that his group would kill thousands of Americans.
Shadi Abdalla, 25, said he spent four months in early 2000 in two Al Qaeda camps near Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. During that time, he said, he heard Bin Laden lecture several times.
Once, according to Abdalla, Bin Laden said: "We will hit America's spine soon. Thousands will die. We will hit them hard."
Bin Laden didn't elaborate, Abdalla said. On another occasion, Abdalla said, Bin Laden asked a group of recruits to pray for his fighters, who had just begun an attack he didn't specify.
Abdalla was testifying in the trial of Mounir Motassadeq, a Moroccan accused of providing logistical support to the Sept. 11 hijack teams. Prosecutors say Abdalla is one of their most important witnesses in the trial, although he created considerable confusion by his apparent inability to remember the timing of events.
At one point, Abdalla said he saw Motassadeq at a camp in Afghanistan at a time when Motassadeq was believed to be in Germany.
Abdalla was arrested in Germany in April and has been in custody since. He is awaiting trial on charges that he was a member of a terrorist group that planned attacks inside Germany, according to German investigators.
Investigators have interrogated Abdalla nearly 30 times and indicate that they have been able to corroborate some of his information, according to people with knowledge of the interrogations.
Abdalla came to Germany in 1995 from Jordan and received political asylum. In late 1999, the Muslim missionary sect Tabligh paid for him to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Abdalla said he met one of Bin Laden's sons-in-law there and was persuaded to travel to Afghanistan.
Abdalla said he traveled through Pakistan to Kandahar, where he stayed in an Al Qaeda guest house under the supervision of Mohammed Atef, Al Qaeda's military leader, who was killed last year in the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
Abdalla then trained in a military camp for 20 days and was transferred to a camp near the Kandahar airport, where, he said, he met Bin Laden.
When Bin Laden later left for another camp, Abdalla was chosen to be one of his personal guards. Abdalla said his main qualification for the job was his size. He is a large man, about 6-foot-4 and stocky.
"They were afraid at that time that [Bin Laden] may be attacked any time soon," he said.
Bin Laden spoke often about the jihad, or holy war, against the Americans, Abdalla said. The 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were discussed openly in the camps, he said.
Abdalla testified that he saw defendant Motassadeq three times in Afghanistan.
Motassadeq has admitted attending an Al Qaeda camp but said that it was purely for military training and that the camp had no political orientation.