A Saudi national who has been called one of Al Qaeda’s early leaders and a former top aide to Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to life in prison in connection with the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, prosecutors announced Friday.
Khalid Fawwaz, 52, was convicted of conspiracy charges in February, more than 16 years after his arrest in Britain. Fawwaz fought extradition to the United States for years, but was finally sent to this country in October 2012.
Prosecutors said Fawwaz “played a critical role for Al Qaeda in its murderous conspiracy” against the U.S, but Fawwaz's lawyers said their client is just a dissident who sought peaceful reform and was dismayed by Bin Laden’s shift toward violence.
“There is no hate in the heart of Khaled al-Fawwaz,” defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim told jurors during the trial in New York early this year.
Prosecutors said Fawwaz had headed an Al Qaeda military training camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s, before moving to Nairobi in 1993. There, prosecutors said, he served as a leader for the terrorist organization as it began planning for attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which left 224 people dead and more than 4,500 wounded.
“Fawwaz conspired with a murderous regime, and the result was a horrific toll of terror and death,” U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara said in a statement. “The price he will pay, appropriately severe as it is, cannot possibly compensate his victims and their families.”
Fawwaz later served as Bin Laden’s media advisor from London, prosecutors said during the trial. He screened journalists who requested interviews with Bin Laden and helped the Al Qaeda leader's fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans in any country, prosecutors said.
During the trial, prosecutors also presented a list that they said indicated Al Qaeda members found by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001. Bin Laden was No. 1 on the list; Fawwaz, listed under an alias, was No. 9, they said.
A lawyer for Fawwaz said it would be “reckless” to make assumptions about the list because jurors were never shown who created it or why.
Shortly before his sentence was handed down on Friday, Fawwaz addressed victims of the bomb attack, who were seated in the courtroom.
"I can't find words to describe how terribly sad and sorry I am," Fawwaz said. "I don't support violence. ... I hope one day people will find other ways to live with their differences other than violence."
Ellen Karas, one of three victims who spoke at the hearing, was blinded by the attacks. “I worship the same God as you,” she told the defendant. “But he is not an angry God. He is not a vengeful God.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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