NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former top aide to Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to life in prison for conspiring in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan sentenced 52-year-old Khaled al-Fawwaz on Friday.
He was convicted in February of terror charges accusing him of supporting the attacks in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
At his sentencing, al-Fawwaz was confronted by a woman who was blinded in one of the attacks and others who lost loved ones.
“I worship the same God as you,” said Ellen Karas, directly addressing him. “But he is not an angry God. He is not a vengeful God.”
In her remarks, Karas described being pulled out of the rubble in Nairobi and spending months in the hospital. She underwent multiple surgeries that failed to restore her sight.
“I had a career ahead of me. It’s gone. Now I have a guide dog,” she said of the black Labrador at her side.
Karas called herself and other survivors living proof that “Osama bin Laden didn’t win. We are all here. He is gone. And thankfully it will stay that way forever.”
Edith Bartley, whose father and brother were killed in the same attack in Kenya that scarred Karas, told the judge al-Fawwaz deserved a life term.
“He has had his day in court,” she said. “In spite of that, Your Honor, this man stands before you unrepentant.”
Al-Fawwaz‘s lawyers had asked that he be sentenced to less than life in prison, saying he was less culpable than others.
But prosecutors say al-Fawwaz was an al Qaeda leader who helped bin Laden make sure his 1996 declaration of war against the U.S. reached the world. They say he also led a terrorist training camp and a terror cell.
“Fawwaz conspired with a murderous regime, and the result was a horrific toll of terror and death,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “The price he will pay, appropriately severe as it is, cannot possibly compensate his victims and their families.”
Al-Fawwaz at one time ranked as the ninth-most powerful member of al Qaeda, prosecutors say.
The Saudi Arabia-born al-Fawwaz was arrested in London weeks after the August 1998 attacks but was not extradited from Great Britain until 2012.
On Friday, he received permission from the judge to turn and face about two dozen victims sitting in the audience.
“I can’t find words to describe how terribly sad and sorry I am,” al-Fawwaz told them. “I don’t support violence. … I hope one day people will find other ways to live with their differences other than violence.”
Kaplan responded by telling al-Fawwaz he didn’t believe him, adding, “Obviously, the jury didn’t share that picture of you.”
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