NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Saudi man charged in connection with the twin 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa was a “trusted lieutenant” of Osama bin Laden from the earliest days of al Qaeda, U.S. prosecutors said at the start of his trial in New York.
Khalid al-Fawwaz disseminated bin Laden’s calls for violence against Americans from an office in London, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin told a federal jury on Thursday.
“In 1996, that man helped Osama bin Laden declare his bloody war on America,” Lewin said.
Defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said al-Fawwaz was a peaceful dissident who abhorred violence as a means to achieve political ends.
“There is no hate in the heart of Khalid al-Fawwaz,” she said, exhorting the jurors to avoid viewing the evidence through a “prism of prejudice, a fog of fear or goggles of guilt.”
Al-Fawwaz faces five terrorism counts, including conspiracy to kill Americans, and a potential life sentence.
He is not charged with planning the 1998 attacks, which killed 224 and wounded thousands at embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Instead, prosecutors say al-Fawwaz provided crucial support to al Qaeda that laid the groundwork for the bombings, publicizing bin Laden’s declarations and facilitating communications among al Qaeda members.
Al-Fawwaz also led one of al Qaeda’s first training camps in Afghanistan and helped set up a cell in Kenya that would later plan the attacks, Lewin said.
A list of 170 al Qaeda members, recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, includes al-Fawwaz at No. 9, Lewin said.
Sternheim did not deny that al-Fawwaz knew bin Laden from Afghanistan in the 1980s, where they met while opposing the Soviet Union's invasion. The two men shared a commitment to reforming their native Saudi Arabia and collaborated on calls for change, using bin Laden’s prominent family name to carry weight, she said.
However, while bin Laden turned to violence in the mid-1990s, al-Fawwaz did not, she said. She dismissed the al Qaeda membership list, saying its author remains a mystery.
Al-Fawwaz was arrested in 1998 in London and brought to the United States in 2012 after a lengthy extradition fight.
He originally had two co-defendants, Abu Anas al-Liby of Libya and Abdul Adel Bary of Egypt.
Al-Liby, snatched in October 2013 by U.S. forces in Tripoli, died this month after years of medical problems. Bary pleaded guilty in September and faces up to 25 years in prison.
Reporting by Joseph Ax. Editing by Andre Grenon