The arrival in New York on Saturday of two suspects in the 1998 al Qaeda-led bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, hasn’t been especially big news.
Perhaps that’s because it’s been a long time since the indictment, U.S. v. bin Laden et. al., was filed in the Southern District of New York in 1998, in response to the terrorism that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. Even the later, more spectacular Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are fading into the past.
But it’s worth noting the arrival of Khaled al Fawwaz and Adel Abdel Bary, who were was finally extradited from London to New York to stand trial after 14 years of court battles in the Britain and European courts. (Three others accused in different terrorism-related cases were also extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. at the same time.)
The 1998 indictment was notable as the first attempt by the U.S. to bring al Qaeda to justice in the U.S. courts – long before most Americans had even heard of bin Laden or al Qaeda. Americans at the time hadn’t even heard of the original lead prosecutor in that case — Patrick Fitzgerald – who is already retired now, after 10 years at the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, where he made a name for himself in entirely different cases.
If convicted, al Fawwaz and Bary will bring to eight the number of al Qaeda defendants prosecuted in federal courts from the 1998 embassy attacks – refuting the idea advanced by some national security conservatives that federal courts aren’t an appropriate venue for terrorism suspects.
So, now is a good time to look at the scorecard from that indictment, which named bin Laden and 20 other defendants. Six of the defendants – including the most famous, bin Laden – were killed by U.S. forces overseas. Four remain fugitives, including bin Laden’s former No. 2, Ayman al Zawahiri. Others were killed by other countries’ forces, and one died of cancer while fighting extradition from the U.K.
First, a brief note on al Fawwaz. He is a Saudi who moved to London in 1994 to run Al Qaeda’s communications bureau there. As a top lieutenant to bin Laden in the pre-9/11 era, he arranged for then-ABC News reporter John Miller’s 1998 interview with bin Laden in Afghanistan. Fawwaz also arranged the purchase of a satellite phone battery, to be couriered to bin Laden via the consultant ABC had hired to accompany them on the trip. Bin Laden used that satellite phone with its new battery to coordinate the Africa bombings.
Miller later served as spokesman for the FBI before moving on in 2009 for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and then back into journalism with CBS News in 2011.
Below is the fate of the other defendants named in U.S. v. bin Laden et. al.:
Sentenced to federal prison:
- Mahdouh Mahmud Salim stabbed a corrections officers in the eye with a shank fashioned from a comb while awaiting trial for the embassy bombings. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison for the stabbing in 2004.
- Wadih el Hage, a former resident of Texas who served as bin Laden’s secretary when the al Qaeda leader was based in Sudan, was convicted and sentenced to life without parole in 2001. He was one of four defendants prosecuted by Fitzgerald.
- Mohamed al-’Owhali was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 along with el Hage.
- Khalfan Khamis Mohamed was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 along with el Hage.
- Mohamed Odeh was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 along with el Hage.
- Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, accused of playing a key logistical role in the embassy attacks, was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and sent to a CIA “black site.” He was later detained at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was acquitted in federal court in New York in 2010 of all but one of more than 280 terrorism charges against him, in large part because his extra-legal detention led to key testimony against him being ruled inadmissible in court. However, a federal judge sentenced him to life without parole, calling his crimes in Africa horrific. Ghailani’s conviction on only one count bolstered the arguments of conservatives against trying terrorism suspects in federal courts, which they had raised in 2009 when Attorney General Eric Holder proposed trying alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York, an idea later withdrawn under political pressure
Killed by U.S. forces overseas:
- Al-Qaeda military chief Muhammed Atef killed in a U.S. bombing raid in Afghanistan in November 2001 following the terrorist attacks a month earlier on New York and Washington, D.C.
- Mustafa Mohamed Fadhil fled after the embassy bombings and spent many years on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List. He was eventually killed in Afghanistan and removed from the most wanted list in 2006.
- Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam, alleged to have purchased the truck used in the Tanzania bombing, was killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan on New Year’s Day 2009.
- Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, alleged to have helped Msalam purchase the truck used in the Kenya bombing, and later associated with suicide attacks in Pakistan, was killed alongside Msalam in Pakistan by the CIA drone strike on New Year’s Day 2009.
- Ahmed Mohamed Hamed Ali was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in 2010.
- Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in a nighttime raid on his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.
Killed by non-U.S. forces overseas:
- Before being charged in the 1998 embassy bombings, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was reportedly in Mogadishu during the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia in which al Qaeda-trained Somali militiamen downed two U.S. helicopters and killed U.S. service members. Mohammed was later suspected in a truck bombing of a hotel in Mobassa, Kenya, in 2002 that killed 15, and in a failed attempt to bring down an Israeli jetliner in Kenya with shoulder-fired missiles. He was killed at a Somali military security checkpoint in 2011.
- Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah was accused of building the bombs used in the embassy attacks. He was further alleged to have earlier been part of the al Qaeda cell in Somalia that trained the militiamen to attack the U.S. He was killed in 2006 by Pakistani forces in a raid on a village near the Afghanistan border.
- Ibrahim Eidarous died of leukemia in 2008 while fighting extradition from Britain.
- Egyptian Saif al Adel became the “caretaker” leader of al Qaeda following the death of bin Laden in May 2011.
- Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, long bin Laden’s No. 2, assumed formal leadership of al Qaeda in June 2011. He is on the FBI’s most wanted list.
- Anas al Liby, accused of conducting surveillance for al Qaeda in Nairobi, is a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list.
- Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah is a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list.