Bin Laden top aide faces sentencing in embassy bombing case

AP News
Posted: May 14, 2015 1:40 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Defense lawyers are urging a federal judge to sentence a former top aide to Osama bin Laden to less than life in prison for his conviction in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa while prosecutors are calling for a life term, saying he has "grossly miscast himself as an opponent of violence."

Khaled al-Fawwaz, 52, faces sentencing Friday following his conviction on conspiracy charges earlier this year in the attacks in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.

His lawyers noted in presentence submissions that there was no evidence he had knowledge beforehand of the embassy bombings and they say his role facilitating contact between bin Laden and the Western media "is not of the heinous nature warranting a life sentence."

They said others found guilty of similar conduct have not been sentenced to life in prison and al-Fawwaz, a father of four children, does not fit the profile of a terrorist.

"While Mr. al-Fawwaz maintains his innocence, he has expressed deep sorrow for the victims of the embassy bombings and their families," they said. "Mr. al-Fawwaz opposes violence and has demonstrated that he has opposed violence throughout his life."

In a pre-sentence filing, prosecutors called al-Fawwaz an al-Qaida leader, saying he earned life in prison by directing an al-Qaida military training camp in Afghanistan in 1991, leading an al-Qaida cell in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1993 when surveillance of the U.S. embassy there began, and by ensuring bin Laden's 1996 declaration of war against the United States reached the world.

They said al-Fawwaz advised al Qaeda about how best to broadcast its calls for death and terror and arranged for journalists with CNN and ABC to interview bin Laden in 1997 and 1998.

"In an effort to cast himself and his conduct in a more flattering light than they merit, Fawwaz has misrepresented and mischaracterized many of the relevant facts. Most importantly, he has grossly miscast himself as an opponent of violence," the government said. Prosecutors called him "the faithful and effective messenger of bin Laden's violent, hate-filled words."

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Prosecutors said Fawwaz was the go-to contact for al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan when they needed vehicles, generators or minutes for a satellite phone.

"In short, until he was arrested, Fawwaz devoted much of his adult life to helping al-Qaida succeed, and used his knowledge of English and the West, and his base in London, to help spread terror to America," they said.

Born in Saudi Arabia, al-Fawwaz joined the mujahideen in its fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the late 1980s as an aid and relief worker, defense lawyers wrote. They said he met bin Laden then and shared an interest in the peaceful reform of the Saudi government. Arrested soon after the embassy bombings, al-Fawwaz was extradited from Great Britain in 2012.