By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors urged a judge to accept a plea deal for an Egyptian man charged in connection with the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, pressing for no more than 25 years in prison despite the judge's concern that it might be too lenient.
In court papers filed late on Monday in New York federal court, the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Adel Abdul Bary was less involved in the bombings than other members of the conspiracy.
"The evidence of Bary's direct involvement and knowledge of the bombings before they took place is limited, and the evidence establishes that Bary's primary role ... was that of a communications facilitator," the government wrote.
Bary, 54, pleaded guilty on September 19 to three counts, including conspiring to murder U.S. citizens abroad, in connection with the attacks which killed 224 people in Kenya and Tanzania. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 25 years, though Bary is likely to get credit for the 15 years he already spent in custody, including 13 years fighting extradition from Britain to the United States.
Bary had faced 284 counts, including 224 counts of murder, and would have received a mandatory life sentence if convicted at trial of the most serious charges.
In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan declined to accept the plea at the hearing two weeks ago and asked prosecutors and defense lawyers to provide additional information.
"You can well appreciate why I have questions in my mind," Kaplan said at the time.
In their filing, prosecutors said the most serious counts would require proof that Bary knew of the attacks in advance. The evidence to suggest such foreknowledge, they said, was far from ironclad.
In particular, both prosecutors and Bary's lawyers said evidence that Bary had received faxed claims of responsibility prior to the attacks was not as reliable as the government had once asserted.
Bary's role, the government said, was to help disseminate messages from the leadership of the militant groups al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad to the world at large, including after the attacks. He was not accused of assisting in the planning of the bombings.
In a separate letter, defense lawyers also cited a recently discovered document Bary wrote in the days before the attacks in which he denounced the use of violence against civilians.
Bary was scheduled for trial in November alongside two co-defendants, Libyan Abu Anas al-Liby and Saudi Khalid al-Fawwaz. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Bary was extradited to the United States in 2012 along with several others, including London preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was convicted at trial this year of aiding Yemeni militants who kidnapped Western tourists in 1998, among other charges.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Ingram and Richard Chang)