US embassy bomber jailed for life

A follower of Osama bin Laden received life in prison without parole for the deadly bombing of the US Embassy in Kenya after a New York jury was deadlocked amid concerns that imposing a death penalty would create a martyr.

A follower of Osama bin Laden received life in prison without parole for the deadly bombing of the US Embassy in Kenya after a New York jury was deadlocked amid concerns that imposing a death penalty would create a martyr.

After five days of deliberations, jurors said yesterday they could not agree that Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali deserved to die for his role in the August 7, 1998, attack on the embassy at Nairobi that killed 213 people and wounded thousands.

US officials accuse bin Laden, a Saudi fugitive indicted in the case, of running an Islamic terrorist organisation.

"I’m disappointed," said Ellen Bomer, a career government employee blinded in the explosion, who had testified during the death penalty hearing. "If ever there was a person who needed to be put to death, this is the one."

Al-Owhali, 24, also was convicted of conspiracy in the nearly simultaneous bombing on the US Embassy in Tanzania.

Another defendant, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, could face the death penalty for the attack in Tanzania, in which 11 people died. The same Manhattan jury is to hear his penalty case next Tuesday. Two others were also convicted but were not subject to the death penalty.

Al-Owhali’s life was spared one day after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh became the first person executed by the federal government since 1963. Under a 1996 federal law, prosecutors can seek the death penalty in terrorist murder cases.

Defence lawyer Frederick Cohn, noting that the panel was told to avoid coverage of the McVeigh case, said he saw no connection between Monday’s execution and the jury decision.

"This is an extraordinary victory for a system that was really put to the test," Cohn said. "I'm about as numb as my client."

In a statement, US Attorney Mary Jo White said the death penalty "is uniquely a matter for the jury to decide, and we respect the verdict."

But families of the victims were critical of the jury. Howard Kavaler, a Foreign Service officer who lost his wife in the Kenya blast, accused the jury of buying "some or all of the blatantly false and dishonest arguments to save the life of a convicted mass murderer."

Sue Bartley, whose husband and son were killed, was in tears. "Anyone who kills this many people and thought about it, should be put to death," she said.

Before the jury’s verdict was announced, Al-Owhali appeared relaxed at the defence table, smiling as he awaited word. At one point, he held a copy of the Quran, Islam’s holy book.

In a lengthy "verdict sheet" used by the jurors to reach their decision, the panel provided several reasons for staying away from the death penalty.

Ten of the 12 jurors concluded that executing him could make him a terrorist martyr; nine said it would not relieve the victims’ pain; four said lethal injection is humane and the victim would not suffer; five found life in prison is a greater punishment; and four noted that he was raised in a different culture and belief system.

"We the jury do not unanimously find that the death sentence is appropriate," the jury decided. "We understand that the consequence of this is that Al-Owhali will be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release."

There was no exact breakdown of the jury vote, and none of the jurors was available to discuss the case. US District Judge Leonard Sand will impose the sentence on September 12.

On Monday, the jury sent out a note asking for instructions if it was unable to reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty. Sand instructed the jurors that they could simply indicate there was no agreement, and the defendant would instead receive life without parole.

The last person sentenced to death in US District Court in Manhattan was Gerhard A Puff, a bank robber executed in 1954 for killing an FBI agent. One year earlier, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for nuclear espionage.

Al-Owhali, of Saudi Arabia, rode in the truck used in the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi before leaping out and hurling stun grenades at guards.

He then ran for his life as the truck exploded.

Mohamed, 27, of Tanzania, helped build the bomb used in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital.

The others convicted - Wadih El-Hage, 40, of Arlington, Texas, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, of Jordan - face life in prison when they are sentenced.

The indictment alleged that the four conspired with others in bin Laden’s organization, al-Qaeda, to attack Americans anywhere they can be found to pressure the United States to stay out of the Middle East.

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