NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A prosecutor at a terrorism trial said Thursday that a Saudi Arabian defendant was a top al Qaeda terrorist who sought to spread Osama bin Laden’s call to kill Americans while a defense lawyer described him as a dissident waging a peaceful campaign against corruption in his native country.
Khaled al-Fawwaz “worked for years, directly and personally for Osama bin Laden. The defendant helped Osama bin Laden declare his bloody war on Americans,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin told the anonymous jurors in opening statements at the trial in federal court in Manhattan.
Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim countered by telling jurors, “There is no hate in the heart of Khaled al-Fawwaz. There is hope his beloved country of Saudi Arabia will be reformed.”
Al-Fawwaz, 52, has pleaded not guilty in the conspiracy resulting in twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998, that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan told jurors just before the start of openings that their names won’t be available publicly and that no one connected to the trial knows them. Anonymous juries are common at terrorism trials.
Al-Fawwaz’s trial has contributed to heightened security at the courthouse, with armed federal guards standing watch.
The defendant was extradited from Great Britain in 2012. He had been scheduled to stand trial with Abu Anas al-Libi — who was snatched off the streets of Libya in 2013 — but al-Libi died this month after a long illness.
In opening statements, Lewin accused al-Fawwaz of leading one of al Qaeda’s early training camps and helping lead a cell of terrorists in Africa. He said al-Fawwaz made sure bin Laden’s 1996 declaration of war against the United States reached the world by communicating with the media and helping translate bin Laden’s words for multiple audiences.
“Ladies and gentlemen, words lead to action, and murderous words lead to murderous action,” Lewin said.
After al-Fawwaz’s arrest in London in 1998, investigators discovered 18 copies of the declaration of war — signed by bin Laden — in his apartment, Lewin said. Other evidence includes an al Qaeda roster of its original members list bin Laden first and al-Fawwaz ninth, he added.
The defense didn’t deny that al-Fawwaz knew bin Laden, another Saudi Arabian, from the days they both opposed the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. But Sternhein claimed he never joined al Qaeda.
“He never shared those horrible views of Osama bin Laden. He never shared al Qaeda’s support of violence,”‘ she said as the bearded defendant, wearing a white prayer cap, looked on impassively.
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