Four bin Laden followers receive life terms without parole for 1998 embassy bombings
NEW YORK (AP) – In a courthouse ringed by shotgun-toting marshals a few blocks from the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center, four disciples of Osama bin Laden were sentenced to life without parole Thursday for the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
The men were the first to be convicted by a U.S. jury of carrying out bin Laden’s 1998 religious edict to kill Americans wherever they are found.
They got the maximum sentence as expected after U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand called terrorism ”one of the most serious threats to our society … to the society of any civilized nation.”
He also ordered each of the defendants to pay $33 million in restitution, perhaps out of terrorist assets frozen by the U.S. government in recent weeks.
The near-simultaneous Aug 7, 1998, bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, killed 231 people, including 12 Americans. Nearly two dozen people have been indicted in the case, including bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding out in Afghanistan and is also wanted for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Prosecutors during the six-month trial accused bin Laden and his organization of directing the bombings, using a satellite telephone from Afghanistan and messengers to communicate the orders.
”Al-Qaida stands charged, tried, convicted and sentenced for terrorism,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in Washington. ”Today’s sentence sends a message: The United States will hunt terrorists down and make them pay a price for their evil acts of terrorism.”
Sand handed down identical sentences for Wadih El-Hage, 41, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 28, Mohamed Al-‘Owhali, 24, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36.
The jury had considered and rejected the death penalty for Mohamed and Al-‘Owhali, in part to keep them from being viewed as martyrs.
During the sentencing, El-Hage rose to condemn last month’s attacks in New York and Washington.
”The killing of innocent people is radical, extreme and cannot be tolerated by any religion, principles or values,” said El-Hage, a Lebanese-born naturalized American. He maintained his innocence during the 30-minute speech in federal court.
The government branded him a traitor and a liar, saying he raised money for bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization as he led the life of a family man in Arlington, Texas.
El-Hage ”claims to be a citizen, but he’s not an American,” prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said. ”He betrayed his country, he betrayed his religion, he betrayed humanity.”
Odeh, whose lawyer acknowledged that he ”was a soldier in the military wing of al-Qaida,” showed no remorse at sentencing, and asserted that terrorism was the result of U.S. policies in the Middle East.
”I can only say to Allah we belong, and to him we’ll return,” he said. ”God help me in my calamity, and replace it with goodness.”
Mohamed, convicted of helping to grind TNT and load the bomb that struck the Tanzanian embassy, declined to address the court. He said through his attorney that he ”wishes to express gratitude to a jury that spared his life.”
Al-‘Owhali, who rode the bomb vehicle up to the Nairobi embassy and tossed stun grenades at guards before fleeing, also said nothing.
Each was ordered to pay $7 million to victims’ families and $26 million to the U.S. government. Sand has said the defendants are indigent, but suggested that assets might be acquired from Bush administration attempts to freeze the funding of al-Qaida and other terror groups.
The courthouse, the scene of five major terrorism trials in the past nine years, is surrounded by steel barricades to stop speeding bomb-laden trucks like those that exploded at the embassies. Its halls occasionally fill with the acrid smell of the smoldering rubble at the trade center.
Relatives of the bombing victims said the defendants deserved no mercy.
”Let them die conscious of the fact that their souls will be condemned forever,” said Howard Kavaler, whose wife died in the Kenya attack.
Two of the anonymous jurors attended the sentencing and spoke afterward with reporters. One noted that the defendants didn’t speak during their trial and was struck by ”how soft their voices are, how soothing.”
”What evil lies beneath those soft voices,” she said.
The other said she was determined to show up after the trade center disaster to ”let them know we weren’t afraid of them.” She said she saw no signs of sympathy from the defendants Thursday.
”It’s their way or nothing,” she said. ”That’s frightening.”
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