US jury convicts 'bin Laden lieutenant' over Africa embassy bombings

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A Saudi man described by prosecutors as one of Osama bin Laden's most trusted lieutenants was convicted in a federal court in New York on Thursday in connection with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Khalid al-Fawwaz, 52, faces up to life in prison after a jury convicted him on all four conspiracy counts he faced, on their third day of deliberations.

US Attorney Preet Bharara said the verdict marked the 10th conviction through a trial or guilty plea of a defendant tied to the bombings, which killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000.

"We hope this verdict gives some comfort to Al-Qaeda's victims around the world," Bharara said in a statement.

Al-Fawwaz was not charged with planning the embassy attacks themselves. Instead, prosecutors said he functioned as one of bin Laden's most trusted lieutenants while living in London, disseminating the Al-Qaeda leader's declarations of war to the news media and sending equipment to Al-Qaeda members in Africa.

Al-Fawwaz was also accused of operating an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and helping to lead an Al-Qaeda cell in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, that later conducted surveillance ahead of the embassy bombing there.

"Khalid al-Fawwaz did everything that Al-Qaeda asked of him," Assistant US Attorney Sean Buckley said in closing arguments last week.

Al-Fawwaz's defence attorneys painted their client as a peaceful dissident who shared with bin Laden a desire to effect reform in their native Saudi Arabia, but turned away from him when he began calling for violence against US civilians.

The government's case was based on "suspicion, association, theory and inference," defence attorney Bobbi Sternheim told jurors at the trial's close.

She added that prosecutors had failed to show that al-Fawwaz supported bin Laden's radical ideology.

The trial in downtown Manhattan featured testimony from several victims of the bombings. A number of other victims watched from the courtroom gallery.

Al-Fawwaz was arrested in London in 1998. He was extradited to the United States in 2012 following a lengthy legal battle.

He was originally set to be tried alongside two co-defendants, Abu Anas al-Liby of Libya and Egyptian Adel Abdul Bary.

Al-Liby, also known as Nazih al-Ragye, died in US custody last month after longstanding health problems. Bary pleaded guilty in September as part of a deal that limited his prison sentence to 25 years.