Convictions upheld in U.S. embassy bombings in Africa

NEW YORK Mon Nov 24, 2008 6:24pm EST

Israeli soldiers specialising in rescue operations arrive at the scene of the bomb blast in Nairobi August 8, 1998. REUTERS/George Mulala

Israeli soldiers specialising in rescue operations arrive at the scene of the bomb blast in Nairobi August 8, 1998.

Credit: Reuters/George Mulala

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The convictions of three men sentenced to life in prison for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa were upheld by a U.S. federal appeals court on Monday.

The three were part of four tried and convicted in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The August 7, 1998 bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands.

A jury in May 2001 convicted Saudi Arabian Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, Tanzanian Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, Lebanese-born U.S. citizen Wadih El-Hage and Jordan-born Palestinian Mohamed Sadeek Odeh. Their sentencing came one month after the September 11 attacks.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied new trials for al-'Owhali, El-Hage and Odeh, saying the evidence supported the convictions and the trial was fair. Mohamed had appealed his conviction but later withdrew his appeal.

Osama bin Laden was indicted in the same case for masterminding the bombings.

El-Hage, charged as bin Laden's personal secretary and Odeh, accused of being a technical adviser for the bombings, were convicted of being part of the overall conspiracy while Mohamed and al-'Owhali were found guilty for their direct roles in the bombings.

A lawyer for al-'Owhali and Odeh had no comment, while a lawyer for El-Hage could not be reached.

El-Hage's lawyer had argued evidence obtained from phone surveillance and an August 1997 search of his Nairobi apartment should have been suppressed as agents did not obtain a U.S. court-backed warrant typically required for U.S. citizens.

But the appeals court panel disagreed, saying the search was "reasonable under the circumstances presented here."

In addition, it ruled Al-'Owhali and Odeh were properly advised of their rights when they made statements overseas to U.S. authorities in Kenya and to Pakistani authorities.

Evidence in the case also backed the convictions, the court ruled, including sketches of the Nairobi embassy found in Odeh's apartment and El-Hage's knowledge of al Qaeda's plans in his role as the head of the Nairobi al Qaeda cell.

"Our review of this complex and difficult case leaves us confident that defendants received a fair trial," appeals court Judge Jose Cabranes said on behalf of the judges.

The panel also ruled El-Hage was eligible for resentencing as federal guidelines since his sentencing have changed and were no longer mandatory.

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in a statement the decision was "one further measure of justice for the victims of those attacks."

Of 21 people originally charged in the case, eleven others including bin Laden remain at large or their whereabouts are unknown, two have died and four are being held in U.S. or British custody.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Osterman)

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