By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. terrorism trial of suspected al Qaeda figure Abu Anas Al-Liby and accused Osama Bin Laden associate Khalid al-Fawwaz has been postponed for more than two months until Jan. 12, 2015.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York on Wednesday granted a request from al-Fawwaz's lawyers to delay the scheduled Nov. 3 trial to allow them more time to gain access to old computer files seized from their client.
The delay was surprising after Kaplan had expressed skepticism in prior court hearings about postponing the trial.
Both defendants were charged with conspiring in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
Al-Fawwaz, 52, is a Saudi national whom U.S. authorities have accused of acting as a spokesman for al Qaeda and its former leader, Osama bin Laden, while living in London in the 1990s.
He was sent to the United States in 2012 to face trial after a lengthy extradition battle in the United Kingdom.
Al-Liby, 50, also known as Nazih al-Ragye, was snatched from the streets of Tripoli, Libya, last fall by U.S. forces.
Lawyers for al-Fawwaz said they are having trouble opening files and reading computer disks seized from their client more than 15 years ago, but that their computer expert may succeed given additional time.
The two-month delay will also let al-Fawwaz's British lawyers pursue a U.K. civil proceeding seeking classified documents that may relate to conversations that al-Fawwaz had with an officer of Britain's internal spy agency, MI5.
Al-Fawwaz has claimed to have had regular contact with the agent in the 1990s, and to have expressed disapproval of bin Laden's use of violence to the agent at that time.
The British government has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such documents. A U.K. court is expected to rule on the request by year's end, according to al-Fawwaz's lawyers.
Kaplan said the U.K. proceeding was not a factor in his decision to delay the U.S. trial.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by James Dalgleish)