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Salim Life Sentence for Terrorism, Jail Attack Is Upheld

The life prison term imposed on suspected al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, who plunged a comb into the eye of a jail guard in 2000, was upheld by a federal appeals court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan today rejected Salim’s argument that the sentence was unreasonable and invalid because he wasn’t in court when U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts in New York handed it down in August 2010. The appeals court in 2008 overturned Batts’s previous sentence of 32 years in prison, saying the she wrongly concluded that Salim’s crime didn’t meet the legal standard for terrorism.

“Salim has not explained why his absence might have altered his resentence, nor has he demonstrated that any error in his resentencing was so egregious as to warrant relief,” a two-judge appeals panel said today.

Salim, 54, a Sudanese-born Iraqi whom an admitted al-Qaeda member identified in court as an adviser to Osama bin Laden, pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of a federal official. Salim admitted stabbing Louis Pepe, a guard at the federal jail in lower Manhattan, with a plastic comb on Nov. 1, 2000. At the time of the attack, Salim was awaiting trial for an al-Qaeda conspiracy that included the 1998 terror attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Government Evidence

Evidence from the government showed that Salim’s attack on Pepe was part of an attempt to force a judge in his case to assign him new counsel. Prosecutors also provided evidence that Salim and another inmate had intended to take hostages. Batts initially sentenced Salim in 2004.

In the latest appeal, Salim, who is serving his term at the federal supermaximum-security penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, claimed that his attendance at the 2010 resentencing via videoconference violated his right to be present. A correction officer had spat on him during the previous sentencing, Salim told Batts in explaining why he didn’t want to attend. Salim argued that his waiver of that right wasn’t voluntary, because it stemmed from a fear of abuse by guards.

“We see no basis for concluding that the acceptance of Salim’s waiver of presence, while erroneous on this record, warrants reversal under a plain-error standard,” the appeals court said in today’s ruling.

Embassy Bombings

At the 2001 trial of four men accused in the embassy bombings, al-Qaeda founding member Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl testified that Salim advised bin Laden and served on al-Qaeda’s ruling council. Salim approved the destruction of U.S. military property, even if civilians were nearby, al-Fadl testified.

The four men, including Salim’s cellmate and co-conspirator in the the stabbing, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, were convicted and sentenced to life terms.

The case is U.S. v. Salim, 01-cr-0002, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan); U.S. v. Salim, 10-3648, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).

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