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Tanzania Suspects Skip Court Hearing

May 24, 1999

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AP) _ Two suspects charged with the August bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania failed to appear in court today for a preliminary hearing.

Lawyers for the two jailed men, Mahmoud Said Ahmed and Rashid Saleh Hemed, said they were ``very surprised″ by their clients’ absence, according to the magistrate hearing the case.

Ahmed, an Egyptian, had threatened earlier this month to boycott court proceedings to protest repeated delays in setting a trial date.

Ahmed and Hemed, a Tanzanian, were charged in September with 11 counts of murder for the people killed in the Aug. 7 blast in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam. The explosion injured 85 others.

A nearly simultaneous blast at the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Kenya killed 213 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 5,000.

Ahmed and Hemed could face related conspiracy charges from federal prosecutors in New York. U.S. authorities have accused exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden of bankrolling the deadly bombings.

Magistrate Projestus Rugazia quoted attorneys for the accused as saying they ``were not aware of their client’s intention to refuse to come to court and were very surprised by the turn of events.″

Prosecutors also did not explain why the suspects refused to leave prison and attend the hearing. Rugazia set a new hearing for June 7 and ordered prison authorities to ensure the suspects show up.

In his last court appearance on May 10, Ahmed grew angry when the prosecution requested more time to compile its case. He pledged to boycott the proceedings and began a hunger strike, but soon ended it after he was diagnosed with malaria.

The delays have stemmed mostly from a lack of sophisticated forensic facilities in Tanzania. Prosecutors have received some forensic reports from U.S. authorities.

In October, The New York Times, citing anonymous U.S. officials, reported that Ahmed walked into the Nairobi embassy nine months before the attacks and told American intelligence officials that he knew of a group planning to detonate a bomb-laden truck inside the diplomats’ parking garage.

Ahmed also told Kenyan interrogators that he had taken surveillance photos of the embassy for the attack, which was to involve stun grenades and several vehicles, the Times said. That information was given to U.S. officials and Ahmed was deported, allegedly to travel to Tanzania where he is alleged to have taken part in that plot.

Five other Tanzanians wanted in connection with the embassy bombing are still at large.

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