Charges dropped against Saudi suspected in Khobar bombing
October 21, 1997
Web posted at: 4:24 p.m. EDT (2024 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge dismissed terrorism
charges Tuesday against a Saudi dissident accused by Canadian
authorities of being the lookout driver in the 1996 Khobar
Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
Nineteen American servicemen were killed and several hundred
Saudis and others were injured when the military housing
complex in Dhahran was bombed on June 26, 1996.
Acting on a promise made earlier this month, U.S. District
Court Judge Emmet Sullivan dropped charges that implicated
Hani al-Sayegh in a separate bomb plot against Americans in
Saudi Arabia. The judge agreed with U.S. prosecutors that not
enough evidence existed to prosecute al-Sayegh.
Al-Sayegh appeared briefly in the courtroom wearing bright
yellow prison coveralls. He smiled as he heard the judge's
decision and was escorted from the room to be placed in the
custody of the U.S. Immigration Service.
He now faces deportation proceedings, which could take
several months. Officials say it is all but certain that
al-Sayegh will be deported to Saudi Arabia, something he
"We don't want him to go back to Saudi Arabia," defense
lawyer Francis Carter said. "We believe he is under a death
sentence right now."
Saudi Arabia has indicated that it wants al-Sayegh
extradited, and Carter said a request for political asylum in
the United States is being considered.
Al-Sayegh entered Canada in March and was arrested while
facing deportation proceedings.
The FBI accused him of charges unrelated to the Khobar Towers
bombing, and questioned him for 25 hours before he was
deported to the U.S. under a plea agreement in which he
agreed to cooperate in the Khobar Towers investigation.
But prosecutors were forced to drop the charges against him
after he repudiated the deal and they were unable to obtain
corroborating evidence from Saudi Arabia.
In his ruling, Sullivan noted that al-Sayegh was advised of
his right to remain silent or to have a lawyer present when
the plea bargain was made, and he signed a waiver in Arabic
of these rights.
But in disavowing the deal, al-Sayegh claimed he did not
understand the repercussions of the agreement and did
not have competent legal representation when he signed it.
His lawyers claim he knows nothing about the bombing. But
Canadian court documents say al-Sayegh was the driver of a
car that gave an explosives-laden truck the go-ahead signal
to carry out the bombing.
Sullivan also ruled that the plea bargain would not be
sealed, despite a request by Carter. Carter said that making
it public would place al-Sayegh's family in jeopardy and
would prejudice any future criminal proceedings against him.
But Sullivan ruled that public interest in the Khobar Towers
bombing was intense, judging by the thousands of letters U.S.
citizens have sent the court.
In addition, the judge wrote in his order that al-Sayegh
failed to prove that there was any threat to his family
beyond "sheer speculation."
Carter said he would appeal to the U.S. appeals court in a
bid to keep the plea deal secret. The judge said he would
wait a week before making it public so an appeal can be
Reuters contributed to this report.