4 Bin Laden Followers Get Life

A United States marshal stands guard outside of U.S. District Court in New York, Thursday morning, Oct. 18, 2001, before the sentencing of three embassy bombing defendants. AP

Four terrorist disciples of Osama bin Laden, convicted in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, received life without parole Thursday in a city still coping with the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 28, was the first defendant sentenced in a Manhattan courthouse heavily fortified by shotgun-toting marshals; he was quickly followed by Mohamed Al-'Owhali, 24.

They were replaced before the bench by Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, and Wadih El-Hage, 41, who also received life without parole. Both were convicted of lesser roles and had been eligible for lesser sentences; El-Hage, of Arlington, Texas, a former personal secretary to bin Laden, was the lone U.S. citizen convicted in the 1998 attacks.

"He claims to be a citizen, but he's not an American," prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said of El-Hage. "He betrayed his country, he betrayed his religion, he betrayed humanity."

Four Faces Of Terror
Here are biographical sketches of the four men convicted on conspiracy in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa:

  • KHALFAN KHAMIS MOHAMED, 28, of Tanzania. Known as "K.K.," Mohamed conceded he mixed TNT and helped load it onto a truck to bomb the embassy in Tanzania. Rented a house in Tanzania that was used as a bomb factory. Was arrested in South Africa in 1999. Prosecutors said he told investigators he would have joined in other attacks on Americans if not caught. Portrayed by the defense as a pawn in a vast plot, he was convicted and faced the death penalty, but a jury decided life in prison was more appropriate.

  • MOHAMED RASHED DAOUD AL-'OWHALI, 24, of Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors said he confessed to riding in the bomb vehicle and tossing a stun grenade to distract guards at the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Faced the death penalty but the jury deadlocked. He, too, will receive life in prison.

  • WADIH EL-HAGE, 41, of Arlington, Texas. Born in Lebanon, he was the only U.S. citizen charged. After working as personal secretary and messenger for bin Laden in the Sudan and Kenya in early 1990s, he returned to United States by 1997, settling with his wife and seven children in Texas. Prosecutors said El-Hage continued to carry messages and conspire with bin Laden operatives right up to the time of the embassy attacks. He could get up to life in prison.

  • MOHAMED SADEEK ODEH, 36, of Jordan.allegedly told investigators he went to Kenya five days before the bombings and met fellow explosives expert for a Kenyan terrorism cell. An FBI forensic chemist testified that PETN, a plastics explosive, and TNT were found on pants, a cloth item, eyeglasses and T-shirt taken from a bag Odeh carried when he was arrested. Odeh has a wife and child in Jordan. He could get up to life in prison.

    Source: AP
  • El-Hage — described by prosecutors as leading a double life where he raised both seven children and money for bin Laden's al-Qaida organization — condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the embassy bombings in a 30-minute address to the judge.

    "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 repeatedly asserted his innocence, claiming he was a law-abiding American and a devout Muslim opposed to violence.

    The men sentenced Thursday were the first convicted by a U.S. jury after bin Laden issued a February 1998 fatwa — a religious edict — to kill all Americans wherever they are found.

    "I can only say to Allah we belong, and to him we'll return," said Odeh, who criticized the Clinton administration for its bombing of Afghanistan after the embassy attacks in Tanzania and Kenya. "God help me in my calamity, and replace it with goodness."

    At the sentencing, defense lawyer Ed Wilford said Odeh "was a soldier in the military wing of al-Qaida." He said the attack, in Odeh's view, was an attack against the U.S. for its support of Israel.

    U.S. District Court Judge Leonard B. Sand told Odeh "it was not unusual for the perpetrator of a horrendous crime to point to other circumstances to try to deflect the enormity of his own act."

    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, David Ruhnke, that he "wishes to express gratitude to a jury that spared his life." The jury previously had rejected the death penalty in his case.

    Al-'Owhali rode the bomb vehicle up to the Nairobi embassy and tossed stun grenades at guards before fleeing. He had also faced the death penalty; wearing a white skull cap, he declined to address the court.

    The courthouse, which has hosted five major terrorist trials in the last nine years, is now surrounded by steel barricades to stop speeding bomb-laden trucks like the kind that exploded at the embassies in Africa.

    Its hallways are occasionally filled with the acrid smell of the still smoldering remnants of the World Trade Center towers, just a few blocks away.

    Sand ordered each of the defendants to pay $33 million in restitution: $7 million to the victims' families, and $26 million to the U.S. government.

    At a pre-sentencing hearing on Wednesday, Sand said the defendants were indigent. But he also uggested that frozen assets might be used for victims, thanks to recent attempts by the Bush administration to choke off the funding of al-Qaida and other terror groups.

    The sentencing came after appeals by the victims' survivors for life sentences.

    "Let them die conscious of the fact that their souls will be condemned forever," said Howard Kavaler, whose wife died in the Kenya attack.

    The near-simultaneous Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 231 people, including 12 Americans. They were quickly blamed on bin Laden, who was indicted in the case, and his al-Qaida terrorist organization in Afghanistan.

    The sentencings attracted worldwide attention in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed more than 5,000 people.

    An anonymous jury convicted all four men of conspiracy in May. Al-'Owhali and Mohamed could have been sentenced to death, but the jury decided to spare their lives, in part so the men could not be viewed as martyrs.

    Bin Laden, also blamed in the Trade Center attack last month, is a fugitive being hunted by U.S. military forces sent to the Middle East after the Trade Center towers collapsed.

    Prosecutors during a six-month trial blamed bin Laden and his organization for directing the embassy bombings, using a satellite telephone from Afghanistan and messengers to communicate the orders.

    Trial testimony included that of turncoat terrorist Jamal Ahmed Al-Fadl, who said bin Laden was prepared in 1993 to spend $1.5 million on the black market for uranium as part of his holy war, or jihad, against Americans.

    Al Fadl said he warned U.S. officials in 1996 that al-Qaida-driven attacks were possible within the United States, against U.S. military forces overseas and at American embassies.

    Sand said on the eve of sentencing that El-Hage was not a "flunky or a go-fer," but rather someone who had managerial responsibility.


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