Bin Laden’s Lieutenant Pivotal to Global Fatwah, Jury Told

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A Saudi Arabian man was so pivotal to al-Qaeda he was listed as Number 9 on a secret membership roster recovered on the battlefields of Afghanistan, a federal prosecutor told a Manhattan jury.

The list is among the evidence proving Khalid al-Fawwaz, 52, was a willing participant in al-Qaeda’s conspiracy to attack Americans, which included the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Buckley said in his closing argument Wednesday.

Al-Fawwaz consulted often with Osama bin Laden and Muhammad Atef, then al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, on the drafting a global “fatwah,” or edict issued in February 1998, urging followers to attack U.S. nationals, Buckley said. Al-Fawwaz also helped disseminate that message to Western news organizations, he said.

“This is the man, Khalid al-Fawwaz, who performed the work of al-Qaeda for years, hand in hand with al-Qaeda’s second-in-command,” Buckley said, pointing to the defendant who was wearing an ankle-length white shirt, matching pants and white cap. “Khalid al-Fawwaz did everything al-Qaeda asked of him.”

Al-Fawwaz, who is charged with four conspiracies, has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer has said he didn’t share bin Laden’s views or participate in a conspiracy to kill Americans.

He was arrested in September 1998 and fought extradition from the U.K. until he was brought to the U.S. to face trial in October 2012. He faces a life sentence on each count if convicted. His lawyer is scheduled to give his closing argument Thursday.

Munitions Instructor

Two former al-Qaeda members who pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the U.S. testified they met Al-Fawwaz when he served as an instructor on munitions and armaments at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and that he also headed an al-Qaeda cell in Kenya in 1993, Buckley said.

Members of al-Fawwaz’s Africa cell later carried out the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, prosecutors allege. On the morning of Aug. 7, 1998, al-Qaeda followers detonated bomb-laden vehicles outside the embassy in Nairobi and at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. nationals. Forty-four of those people were U.S. employees.

The conspiracies, which spanned more than a decade, also included attacks upon U.S. forces in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, Buckley said.

Media Bridge

After being dispatched to London in 1994, Al-Fawwaz served as a “bridge” between al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and the media, helping disseminate bin Laden’s decree to kill Americans “anywhere in the world,” Buckley said. Several versions of the fatwah were later found by U.K. authorities after a search of al-Fawwaz’s London home and office after his September 1998 arrest, Buckley said.

Al-Fawwaz further helped obtain a satellite phone used by terrorist leaders in Afghanistan, Buckley said. The prosecutor also played excerpts of phone calls secretly recorded by the U.S. in which Atef and other al-Qaeda leaders can be heard discussing with al-Fawwaz the wording of bin Laden’s declaration. During another call using the satellite phone, Atef telephones an Arabic-speaking journalist directly to dictate the fatwah, Buckley said.

Records show that shortly after the embassy bombings, al-Qaeda issued a faxed declaration claiming responsibility for attacks from the London office used by al-Fawwaz, Buckley said.

“The question is whether somebody who does all those things is someone who’s a member of an al-Qaeda conspiracy? The answer is an overwhelming yes,” Buckley said. “That is how you prove your bona fides with al-Qaeda, you shoot, you bomb, you kill, but it’s only after you prove yourself on the battlefield that you can go on to other jobs.”

The case is U.S. v. al-Fawwaz, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).