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."
"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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