Defense: Terrorism defendant wanted peaceful reform
NEW YORK (AP) — A Saudi Arabian defendant described by prosecutors as one of al-Qaida’s early leaders sought peaceful reform in his home country and was shocked by Osama bin Laden’s turn toward violence, his attorney told a jury Thursday.
Defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim warned jurors during closing arguments not to accept the government’s portrayal of her client, Khaled al-Fawwaz.
Testimony and other evidence during a three-week trial was cited by a prosecutor a day earlier as proof that al-Fawwaz ran an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, helped a terrorism cell in Kenya a few years later and used his understanding of Western media to make sure bin Laden’s death threats against Americans were heard and noticed worldwide in 1998.
Sternheim said the evidence supporting the government’s allegations were “woefully insufficient.”
Nothing that was presented “proves beyond a reasonable that he agreed to join any violent conspiracy,” she said. “The government has absolutely failed to deliver on that.”
Conspiracy charges that could result in a sentence of life in prison if al-Fawwaz is convicted accuse the defendant of aiding the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The attacks killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. By the time the attacks occurred, al-Fawwaz was living in London.
“It is very clear that Osama bin Laden took a very bad turn and the turn that he took shocked, disturbed and angered Khaled al-Fawwaz,” Sternheim said.
During his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Buckley told jurors al-Fawwaz was No. 9 on a list of al-Qaida members that was recovered by U.S. special forces from an al-Qaida leader’s home after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sternheim said the list should be disregarded and it would be reckless to make assumptions about it.
The lawyer said no evidence suggested her client was prone to violence or intended to commit it.
“There’s just no evidence of his intent to do the kinds of ... terrible violence that occurred,” Sternheim said.
Arrested in London soon after the embassy bombings, al-Fawwaz 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 last month after a long illness.