NEW YORK: A guilty verdict issued in a New York court last week marked the ninth conviction related to the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Another 10 of those accused of involvement in the bombings have been killed or have died of natural causes. Three alleged conspirators remain at large.
Most prominent among the dead is Osama bin Laden, the leading figure behind the attacks that killed 200 Kenyans, 12 Americans and 10 Tanzanians as well as two suicide bombers. The al-Qaeda founder was killed in a US special forces raid in Pakistan nearly four years ago.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took charge of al-Qaeda following bin Laden’s death, ranks as the top fugitive sought in connection with the embassy bombings.
In the latest development stemming from the attacks more than 16 years ago, a Saudi national was convicted by a jury in New York on February 26 on four counts of conspiracy.
Khalid al-Fawwaz, 52, was working in London as a publicist for al-Qaeda at the time of the bombings. He was listed as number nine in the al-Qaeda hierarchy in a list discovered in Afghanistan by US forces.
Al-Fawwaz is likely to be sentenced to life in prison in May at the US federal court in Manhattan.
That was also the venue for the first of the embassy bombing trials that began in 2001 and ended with guilty verdicts for all four defendants. Each is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole at a maximum security prison in the US state of Colorado.
Among them is Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, a Saudi who rode in the truck that delivered the bomb to the embassy in Nairobi.
Also convicted was Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian who helped assemble the bomb used in the attack in Dar. Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, a Jordanian, served as a “technical advisor” to the Nairobi terror cell. Wadih el-Hage, a US citizen born in Lebanon, was an organiser of the al-Qaeda unit in Nairobi.
A fifth suspect in the original set of attackers brought to the US for trial in 2001 was convicted of attempted murder of a prison guard while in custody in New York. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a Sudanese said to have been a top aide to bin Laden, was sentenced in 2010 to life without parole.
Three other individuals have pleaded guilty or have been convicted in the US of involvement in the bombings.
This string of successes for US prosecutors is being cited as proof that justice can be delivered in civilian courts in terrorism cases. Others in the US have argued that accused terrorists pose such a severe threat that their cases should be handled by military tribunals at the US prison camp in Guantanamo, Cuba.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who had been detained at Guantanamo until 2009 following his capture in Pakistan five years earlier, was transferred to New York to stand trial on charges stemming from the Dar embassy bombing. He was convicted in federal court and sentenced to life in prison.
Preet Bharara, the chief prosecutor in the most recent set of embassy bombing trials, praised the record of convictions in a speech last week in New York.
“The men and women in our office … have tried and convicted terrorist after terrorist after terrorist,” Mr Bharara said. “Quietly and studiously over the course over a number of years, we have shown the strength of the criminal system on the civilian side.”
STILL ON THE RUN
Along with al-Zawahiri, those still on the run include Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian who established a training camp for militants in Somalia. Abdullah Abdullah, the third fugitive, fled Kenya just prior to the bombings.
In addition to bin Laden, a number of al-Qaeda figures have been killed over the years in US, Pakistani and Somali strikes.
Among them is Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Fadil Harun, who held Kenyan as well as Comoran citizenship.
A leader of al-Qaeda’s operations in East Africa, Fazul was linked to the 2002 bombing of the Paradise Hotel on the Coast that killed 15 people and the nearly simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa. Fazul was shot dead in Mogadishu in 2011.
Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan were two other Kenyan nationals charged in the embassy bombings who were subsequently killed. They died in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2009.
Two individuals accused of playing parts in the embassy attacks died while in custody.
Abu Anas al Libi, a Libyan national, succumbed to liver cancer early this year while awaiting trial in New York. Ibrahim Hussein Abdel Hadi Eidarous, an Egyptian, died of leukaemia in 2008. He had been held in the United Kingdom.