NEW YORK — A federal court jury convicted four followers of Islamic militant Osama bin Laden on Tuesday in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 that killed 224.
The almost simultaneous attacks on the diplomatic facilities in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, were part of what prosecutors said was a worldwide plot to murder Americans. More than 4,500 were injured, many seriously, in the massive explosions.
The jury of seven women and five men, whose identities were kept secret, convicted all four defendants of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens. The verdicts on the 12th day of deliberations were the first conviction in an American court of people who killed U.S. citizens abroad in a terrorist bombing.
The carnage, which included a dozen Americans, was underscored in the heavily guarded courtroom as the name of each victim--a separate count in the indictment--was read aloud Tuesday.
"Guilty," the forewoman of the jury repeated over and over in a liturgy of the dead.
"Let me summarize," said U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand when the reading of the complex 302-count verdict finally was completed after more than an hour. "You have found all of the defendants guilty on all the counts. . . . You have more work."
Starting today, the penalty phase of the trial will begin.
Jurors will consider whether Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a 27-year-old Tanzanian, and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, of Saudi Arabia, should be executed or receive life in prison.
The two were convicted of conspiracy and murder. The jurors found that Al-'Owhali participated directly in the Nairobi attack and that Mohamed took part in the Tanzanian bombing, purchased equipment and helped load on a truck the explosive destined for the embassy.
Both were convicted of using an explosive to cause mass destruction.
Two other defendants, Wadih El-Hage, 40, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Lebanon and living in Arlington, Texas, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, a 35-year-old citizen of Jordan, face life in prison without parole.
The defendants--all of whom will appeal--showed little emotion when the verdicts were announced. Odeh took notes. Al-'Owhali chewed on a pen and looked at court papers. But family members of the victims wiped away tears.
"Justice was done," said Ellen Bomer, a career federal employee who was blinded in the Nairobi blast and who sat in the courtroom crowded with victims during the verdict. "It was the sound I wanted to hear."
Bomer said that Handel's "Messiah" went through her mind as the words guilty rang out. "If I could sing, I would have shouted 'Hallelujah!' " she said.
"It was bittersweet," said Edith Bartley, whose father, Julian Bartley Sr., the embassy's counsel general, and his son Julian Jr. perished in the Nairobi embassy. " . . . We hope the law will continue to be on our side."
"It does not erase the pain," added Clara Aliganga, whose 21-year-old son, a Marine guard, also was killed in Nairobi. "I would not wish this agony on anyone."
Bin Laden Among Those Still Sought
So far, 22 have been indicted in the embassy plots. The list includes Bin Laden and a dozen other fugitives. Authorities believe the Saudi millionaire is being protected by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
"Today's guilty verdicts are a triumph for world justice and for world unity in combating international terrorism," said U.S. Atty. Mary Jo White, whose office prosecuted the case. " . . . But our job is not finished."
The trial provided the most complete portrait outside of secret intelligence files of al Qaeda (The Base), Bin Laden's terrorist organization.
Prosecutors introduced testimony from dozens of witnesses during the three-month trial, including several al Qaeda defectors. The government, aided by documents and photographs, dissected the group's aims, organization, operating methods and business ventures.
Behind a front of businesses used to disguise terrorist activities and to funnel money to operatives, al Qaeda's organization chart consisted of a number of committees, including a military committee, a business committee and a media committee reporting to a Shura Council of leaders.
Hundreds of thousands of pages of material were used to prepare for the trial, underscoring the magnitude and complexity of the investigation.
Barry W. Mawn, assistant FBI director in charge of the New York field office, said the investigation represented the largest FBI deployment abroad ever.
The chain of evidence began in guest houses in the late 1980s in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Bin Laden decided to export Islamic Jihad. It stretched to Sudan, Somalia, Europe and the United States, ending in the smoking wreckage of the two embassies in Africa in August 1998.
"This wasn't an attempt to get on the Fortune 500," Assistant U.S. Atty. Kenneth Karas said in closing arguments, outlining al Qaeda's aims. "This wasn't Money Incorporated, ladies and gentlemen. This was about Jihad Inc."