NEW YORK (AP) — A top New York Police Department official who once worked as a television news correspondent took the witness stand Monday at the trial of an alleged al-Qaida lieutenant accused of helping spread Osama bin Laden's death threat against Americans before the terror network attacked U.S. embassies in Africa.
John Miller, who heads the NYPD's counterterrorism and intelligence bureaus, recalled meeting Khaled al-Fawwaz at the Saudi Arabian defendant's home in London in 1998 after requesting an interview with bin Laden. He said al-Fawwaz asked him about what angle the ABC News story would take and pressed him on logistics out of worry over bin Laden's security.
Al-Fawwaz insisted that Miller's production team "had far too many people and that only one or two could travel for this interview if it were to happen," Miller said. "It was a little tense in the sense that he was concerned about the requirements."
On a cross-examination, a defense attorney sought to ask Miller, who has held various high-profile positions in law enforcement and TV news, whether he notified the FBI or the CIA that he planned to interview bin Laden. The judge cut questioning off before Miller could answer.
Al-Fawwaz was extradited from Great Britain in 2012. He has pleaded not guilty in a conspiracy resulting in two bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
Prosecutors say al-Fawwaz was involved in organizing one of al-Qaida's early training camps and a terrorist cell in Africa. They also have accused him of making sure bin Laden's 1996 declaration of war against the United States reached the world by working with international media and translating bin Laden's words for multiple audiences.
The defense hasn't denied al-Fawwaz knew bin Laden, another Saudi Arabian, from the days they opposed the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. But his lawyers say he never joined al-Qaida and was open about his advocacy for peaceful political reforms in Saudi Arabia.
After meeting with al-Fawwaz, Miller was told to go Islamabad, Pakistan, where he was met by al-Qaida operatives and driven to the border of Afghanistan, he said. Once there, he said, he and his camera crew were given the option of wearing burkas to disguise themselves as women so they could get through a vehicle checkpoint, but instead they chose to get out and hike into Afghanistan on foot.
Miller described being taken to a remote hideout, where bin Laden's arrival was greeted with celebratory AK-47 gunfire. He said he first met bin Laden's chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, who set strict ground rules for the interview inside a hut, where bin Laden warned about killing Americans.
When an infestation of flies threatened to interfere, al-Zawahri stopped the interview by barking "Cut!" and had his men spray insecticide, Miller said.
In parting, Miller said, al-Zawahri told him, "Watch the media. You will see the result of the fatwa in the next few weeks."
Earlier Monday, former Associated Press and CNN correspondent Peter Arnett testified that he also was required to meet al-Fawwaz in London before being allowed an interview with bin Laden in 1997.