By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for a Saudi man accused by U.S. prosecutors of acting as Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant argued at the close of his trial on Thursday that he was a peaceful dissident who found the al Qaeda leader's violent ideology abhorrent.
Khalid al-Fawwaz is charged with participating in several al Qaeda conspiracies, including one that resulted in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, but he is not accused of planning the attacks.
Instead, the government has said he provided crucial groundwork that facilitated the plot, such as sending equipment to al Qaeda members and functioning as bin Laden's "man in London."
Defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim told jurors in federal court in Manhattan that the government was trying to make al-Fawwaz guilty by association.
“This case seemed like it was the United States against Osama bin Laden,” she said in closing arguments at the month-long trial.
Sternheim said al-Fawwaz was a dissident who worked with bin Laden in the early 1990s to press for reforms in their native Saudi Arabia but turned away from him when he declared war on the United States.
Wednesday and earlier on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Buckley accused al-Fawwaz of serving as one of bin Laden’s most trusted associates for years, helping him disseminate threats against American civilians and acting as his “gateway to the West.”
The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Monday. Al-Fawwaz faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Al-Fawwaz also operated an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and helped lead an al Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya, that conducted surveillance ahead of the embassy bombing there, according to prosecutors.
But Sternheim said there was little evidence to show what al-Fawwaz did during his time in Afghanistan and Kenya that would rise to the level of criminal activity.
She also questioned the provenance of a supposed list of al Qaeda members, found by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, that included al-Fawwaz.
“We don’t know who wrote this list,” she said, comparing it to McCarthy-era lists of purported Communists.
Al-Fawwaz was arrested in London in 1998 and extradited to the United States in 2012 following a protracted legal battle.
The case is U.S. v Khalid al-Fawwaz in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 98-1023.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Grant McCool)