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Al-'Owhali spared death in embassy bombings trial

Mohamed al-'Owhali  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A jury has sentenced Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his role in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, it was announced Tuesday.

The jury could have sentenced him to death, but could not reach a unanimous decision to do so.

If al-'Owhali had been sentenced to death, he would have been the first person to face execution in the United States for crimes committed outside of the country.

Al-'Owhali was convicted of helping to carry out the August 7, 1998, bombing of the embassy, which killed 213 people, including 12 Americans and 29 Kenyans who worked at the embassy, and injuring more than 4,500 other people.

He also was convicted with three codefendants of participating in a worldwide terrorist conspiracy allegedly led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden whose military camps inside Afghanistan provided al-'Owhali with arms and explosives training.

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Shattered Diplomacy: The U.S. Embassy Bombings Trial
An in-depth special report on the trial of four men charged with the embassy bombings
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Embassy bombing verdict
Read al-'Owhali penalty phase closing arguments
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  • Lawyers, families react to bombing sentence
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    Al-'Owhali was one of two defendants eligible for the death sentence.

    Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian, was convicted of carrying out a nearly simultaneous truck bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where 11 people died, and is eligible for the death penalty.

    The sentencing phase for him begins next week.

    Mohamed Odeh, 36, a Jordanian, and Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American citizen, face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

    "This is an extraordinary victory for a system that was really put to the test," defense attorney Fred Cohn said. "That a jury in New York could make the findings it could in the face of the real human tragedy that was well-presented by the government was a credit to the system."

    Some victims' family members said they were disappointed by the verdict.

    "Although the ultimate sentencing was not what we hoped it would be, at least we can be peaceful with the fact that al-'Owhali will not be free to harm anyone else," said Sue Bartley, who's husband and son were killed in the Kenya bombing.

    The trial showed that al-'Owhali asked bin Laden for a mission in the spring of 1998, the period when bin Laden issued his most violent fatwah, or religious decree, targeting American civilians as well as military personnel.

    Al-'Owhali helped prepare the Kenya truck bomb and rode in the truck's passenger seat. He fired stun grenades to scatter security guards and to get the vehicle as close to the back of the embassy as possible. He ran before the truck detonated.

    "It was mass murder in cold blood," U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in his closing arguments. "He prepared for it, he studied for it, he trained for it, and he carried it out."

    Defense attorney David Baugh said al-'Owhali's engaged in "killing to stop killing," referring to the million Iraqis who have died from Gulf War airstrikes and food and medical shortages created by U.N. sanctions.

    He told jurors it would be wrong to order an execution.

    "Each of you will have to decide whether to kill someone," Baugh said.

    "If state sanctioning makes killing OK, I want you to know the Holocaust was state sanctioned," Baugh said.

    Al-'Owhali attorney Fred Cohn, left, with attorney David Baugh, calls the verdict "a credit to the system"  

    During the penalty phase, the government called more than two dozen witnesses -- relatives of bomb victims and survivors injured in the blast -- to testify on the impact of the terrorist act. Garcia asked the jury to weigh this factor the most.

    "Impact that continues today. Impact that never ends," Garcia said.

    He mentioned almost all of the witnesses by name, including the final one, Clara Aliganga, who described her deceased son Nathan, 21, a U.S. Marine.

    "He should still be carrying this country's flag -- not coming out of the embassy wrapped in one," Garcia said.

    Garcia said al-'Owhali showed reckless disregard for human life and no remorse, expressing concern that so many Kenyan civilians had died only "after he was caught."

    CNN producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report




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