Four found guilty in terror attacks on embassies
NEW YORK (AP) – Four followers of Osama bin Laden were convicted Tuesday of a global conspiracy to murder Americans, including the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and injured thousands of others in a hail of rubble and shattered glass.
With the word ”guilty” ringing out dozens of times in the tightly guarded and otherwise silent courtroom, the four men were convicted of all 302 counts against them.
Two could face death sentences. The penalty phase of the trial begins Wednesday.
”These verdicts are a triumph for world justice and for world unity in combating international terrorism,” said U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, whose office prosecuted the men as part of an ongoing investigation of bin Laden, the fugitive Saudi millionaire and reputed head of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
”It won’t erase the grief and feeling of loss,” said Edith Bartley, whose father and brother died in the bombing in Nairobi, Kenya.
That explosion and a nearly simultaneous bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania claimed the lives in 12 Americans.
Rashed Daoud Al-‘Owhali, 24, of Saudi Arabia; Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, of Tanzania; Wadih El-Hage, 40, of Arlington, Texas; and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, of Jordan, were convicted of conspiring to kill Americans in the bombings on Aug. 7, 1998.
The death penalty counts pertained to Al-Owhali and Mohamed, who were convicted of using an explosive to cause mass destruction in attacking the embassies.
The courtroom was packed with more than 100 spectators as the verdicts were read, taking more than an hour. Relatives of the defendants wiped away tears or hung their heads as the counts containing each victim’s name were read aloud by the judge’s deputy, followed by a litany of guilty verdicts.
El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary, and Odeh, the ”technical adviser” in the bombings, face possible life sentences. No sentencing date was set.
Odeh, wearing a white cap, took notes as the verdicts were read, his attorney patting him on the back as the first count was read. Otherwise, the defendants showed little reaction.
Attorneys for all of the men said appeals were planned.
The verdicts set the stage for more trials: Six other defendants charged in the conspiracy are in custody; 13 others, including bin Laden, are being sought.
In Washington, FBI Director Louis Freeh said he was ”extremely pleased.”
”The verdict represents a significant development in a massive investigation,” he said.
Even though the attack was overseas, the United States had jurisdiction because American property was targeted. The bombings brought an unprecedented worldwide response to terrorism by hundreds of FBI agents and prosecutors.
Treating terrorism like organized crime, investigators used informants, turncoat terrorists, telephone bugs and confessions to build the case. With extraordinary cooperation from local authorities in Africa, the FBI interviewed the defendants soon after the bombings and placed them in custody.
The jury heard three months of testimony and spent 12 days in deliberations.
In a confession recounted during the trial by an FBI agent, Al-Owhali told investigators he rode the bomb-carrying truck to the embassy in Kenya and tossed stun grenades to distract guards. Another agent testified Mohamed said he helped grind TNT for the bomb in Tanzania before loading the bomb truck and seeing it off, praying that it would achieve its deadly purpose.
During the trial, jurors appeared stunned as they viewed photos of torn and burned bodies, charred cars and smoldering concrete ruins following the attacks.
Some of the most dramatic testimony came from Prudence Bushnell, then the ambassador to Kenya, who said she was certain she was going to die as she descended the bloody stairwell of a building next door to the embassy.
”There was blood everywhere on the banister. I could feel the person behind me bleeding onto me,” Bushnell testified. ”I thought to myself the building was going to collapse … and I was going to die.” She said that when she got outside, she saw a burning vehicle and ”the charred remains of what was once a human being.”
The jury also heard prosecutors repeatedly invoke the name of bin Laden.
They charged that as the reputed kingpin of the al-Qaeda, he commanded a ragtag army of Islamic extremists who had answered the call to arms. A key government witness, former terrorist Jamal al-Fadl, testified that bin Laden referred to the United States as the ”head of the snake.”
Defense lawyers claimed Mohamed was a ”pawn” unaware of the Tanzania bomb’s intent, while Al-‘Owhali should have been exonerated because he was accused of a decade-long worldwide conspiracy he knew nothing about.
The defense also argued that explosives residue on Odeh’s clothing was inconclusive and that he was a victim of guilt by association because he had joined al-Qaeda. Lawyers for El-Hage argued that he was a businessman who knew nothing about bin Laden’s terrorism designs.
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