Both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times lead with former U.S. Army Sgt. Ali Mohamed’s guilty plea yesterday to charges of conspiring with Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, attacks that killed more than 200 people. While the U.S. had suspected Bin Laden of masterminding the bombings all along (and now are considering his potential involvement in the recent attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole), federal investigators had been unable to connect Bin Laden firmly to the bombings until Mohamed’s testimony. The Washington Post stuffs the terrorist’s plea late in its “A” section and goes instead with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s threat yesterday to formally halt the peace process with the Palestinians. Barak made the announcement in a television interview yesterday after a bloody day in the Gaza Strip, where clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian rioters and militia “killed as many as 10 Palestinians and left a U.S.-brokered cease-fire in tatters.”
Mohamed, a 48-year-old naturalized citizen born in Egypt, testified to a Manhattan judge yesterday that he had been working for Bin Laden for nearly a decade. Mohamed helped Bin Laden relocate his operations from Afghanistan to Sudan in 1991; provided Bin Laden’s organization, Al Queda, with weapons and military training; and then assisted them in establishing a presence in Nairobi, Kenya, beginning in 1993. Mohamed told the court that his surveillance of U.S., French, British, and Israeli targets in Nairobi was “part of a plan to retaliate against the United States for its peacekeeping role in neighboring Somalia” (LAT). Both papers quote the ex-sergeant’s testimony that “Bin Laden looked at the picture of the American embassy” that Mohamed provided “and pointed to where the truck could go as a suicide bomber.” The NYT calls Mohamed’s plea a “tremendous victory for the government, which is preparing to place five other defendants on trial on charges relating to the bombings and a broader terrorist conspiracy.” With his plea, Mohamed’s sentence will be dropped to a minimum of 25 years in prison. It is still unclear whether Mohamed will testify against his co-defendants.
The WP lead and NYT and LAT front-pagers all report that Barak’s proposed “time-out” threatens to make lasting the suspension of the Middle East peace process, which has been stalled ever since violence in the region erupted Sept. 29. If Barak formally suspends talks, the WP and NYT warn, President Clinton’s attempt to rekindle the dialogue between Israel and Palestine is likely to suffer “a serious setback.” Furthermore, an official suspension might unite Barak and right-wing political opposition under a “national emergency government,” which would extend Barak’s tenure in office but jeopardize the prospects of any “land-for-peace agreements” with Israel. While the WP and the NYT suggest that the formation of said government could have dangerous consequences, neither speculates about what such a government might consist of besides, in this case, an uneasy détente between political opponents. Barak will wait until at least Monday, when this weekend’s Arab summit in Cairo has concluded, to decide whether to end the negotiations officially.
All the papers front the Navy’s newly revised timetable of the bombing of the U.S. Cole. While Navy investigators had previously maintained that the attack was virtually “unpreventable” because the small bomb-bearing skiff had “blended in” with harbor workboats that helped the warship tie up in port for fueling, the Navy now claims that the Cole had been moored for a full 90 minutes before it was attacked, in which case there was no good reason for another boat to be allowed to approach it. These findings also cast doubt onto whether the attack required assistance from within the Yemenese company contracted to do the fueling since it now seems the boat could have been launched just as easily from the shore. All papers note that the skiff’s ease of approach raises serious questions about the Cole’s security procedures in a port considered dangerous.
An NYT front-pager reports that, according to George W. Bush’s senior national security aide, should the Texas governor become president, he would end the role of the U.S. in NATO peacekeeping forces in the Balkans. Peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo would become a “European responsibility.” According to the Times, Bush’s proposal–which aims to return the U.S. military to its “traditional combat missions” and wean it from “nation building”–would constitute “the most important revision of NATO tasks since the cold war.”
The WP fronts the NAACP’s “unprecedented” effort to get out the African American vote in this year’s presidential election. This $9 million attempt to register black voters across the nation is especially intense in swing states like Ohio, where the race is particularly tight and where black voters (comprising 10 percent of registered voters) could very well be decisive. While the majority of African American voters have, historically, supported Democratic presidential candidates and while black support for Vice President Al Gore is overwhelming, the Republican National Committee began this week its first national radio ad campaign to win over black voters. This may be an uphill battle if the NAACP’s new emotionally charged television ads are any indication. One yet-to-be-released spot features the daughter of hate crimes victim James Byrd Jr. taking Gov. Bush to task for refusing to support hate crimes legislation in his home state.