More than a decade of delays in bringing the man accused of being Osama bin Laden's representative in Britain to the United States for trial appears to be nearing an end, according to a lawyer seeking to represent him against charges in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
David Kirby, a Burlington, Vt., lawyer, wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan that Khalid al-Fawwaz expects to be brought to the U.S. for trial in the next few months. The letter was entered into the record Friday in federal court in Manhattan.
Al-Fawwaz was arrested a month after the August 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. He was charged in an indictment with conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to destroy U.S. buildings and property and conspiracy to attack national defense utilities. The charges carry a potential life sentence. The indictment still lists bin Laden as the lead defendant despite his death during a U.S. military raid in Pakistan earlier this week.
According to the indictment, bin Laden and al-Fawwaz in 1994 set up a media information office in London that was designed to publicize the statements of bin Laden and to provide a cover for activity in support of al-Qaida's military activities. Those military activities included the recruitment of trainees, the disbursement of funds and the procurement of necessary equipment, including satellite telephones, it said.
The London office also served as a conduit for messages, including reports on military and security matters from various al-Qaida cells, including the Kenyan cell, to al-Qaida's headquarters, the indictment said.
Kirby sought in his letter to be appointed to represent al-Fawwaz prior to his arrival in the U.S. The lawyer said al-Fawwaz is indigent and seeks a head start on addressing pre-trial issues and preparing a thoughtful defense. Kaplan denied the request.
For the last 12 years, al-Fawwaz has been fighting extradition and seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom, saying he feared persecution in his native country of Saudi Arabia as a result of his high-profile opposition to the Saudi government, Kirby said.
The lawyer said al-Fawwaz has lost his extradition challenge in the United Kingdom but is still contesting it before the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the conditions of his confinement in the U.S. would not comply with standards required under the European Convention on Human Rights. Kirby said those proceedings are likely to end within months, clearing the way to extradition.
Kirby said he has been in contact with al-Fawwaz's attorneys in London for more than eight months and had developed a substantial rapport with them.
He said one of the attorneys, trained in the U.S. but now practicing in the United Kingdom, was seeking an American lawyer who would not "sensationalize the case or seek publicity for any cause." Reached in his office by telephone Friday, Kirby declined to comment beyond what he said in his letter.
It was unclear Friday whether prosecutors will seek to have bin Laden's name dropped from the indictment. They have never sought to remove the indictment's second name, Mohammed Atef, who was killed in U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2001. So far, five men have been convicted in the case and sentenced to life in prison.
Larry Neumeister can be reached at http://twitter.com/Lneumeister