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Saudi bombing suspect may plea bargain

Al Sayegh

Would tell about Khobar Towers blast

June 17, 1997
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT)

Latest developments:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A suspected Saudi terrorist jailed in Canada in connection with a bombing that killed 19 American airmen in Saudi Arabia last year, will plead guilty in Washington to an unrelated count of conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens, sources familiar with the plea bargain arrangement confirmed on Tuesday.

The sources said the deal federal authorities made with Hani al-Sayegh requires him to tell U.S. officials all he knows about June 1996 bombing at the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Al-Sayegh could be transferred to the United States as early as Wednesday, the sources said. The Saudi man is tentatively scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Washington on Thursday morning before Judge Emmett Sullivan.

A U.S. law enforcement source said al-Sayegh will plead guilty to conspiring to commit an aborted terrorist attack in December 1995, about six months before the Khobar Towers bombing.

The court has some latitude in determining al-Sayegh's punishment, but the plea bargain agreement suggests a sentence of at least a few years.

Lawyer: Deportation for protection

Khobar Towers bombing

Michael Wildes, al-Sayegh's lawyer, said in a brief statement on Tuesday that his client will be deported to the United States to protect him and help the United States.

"I believe the arrangement serves both the interests of my client's safety and the U.S. government's interest in investigating the Khobar Towers bombing," said Wildes.

Last month a Canadian federal judge ordered al-Sayegh expelled for his alleged role in the bomb plot. Under Canadian law he could have been deported to his native Saudi Arabia, or to the United States, where the suspect changed planes briefly en route to Canada last summer.

Canadian officials have told CNN that al-Sayegh did not want to return to his homeland, fearing execution.

Individuals connected with terrorism in Saudi Arabia are usually tortured or killed. While Saudi officials have detained numerous suspects in connection with the attack, they have not given the United States access to them.

Suspect signaled bomb truck?

The deportation of al-Sayegh could provide U.S. authorities their first confirmation of Saudi government claims that Iran was involved in the Khobar Towers bombing.

While he will not be charged in the attack that killed the U.S. airmen and injured hundreds of others, he will reveal what he knows about the bombing, sources said.

Federal law enforcement officials believe al-Sayegh drove a car which signaled the truck carrying the bomb when to pull up beside the apartment complex.

Al-Sayegh was arrested in Canada, where he sought refugee status because of claims of persecution in his homeland for opposing the Saudi royal family.

At the time of his arrest, he said he was innocent and was not in Saudi Arabia at the time of the explosion. He is being held in Ottawa.

Correspondent Terry Frieden contributed to this report.  
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