It took 17 years, but federal prosecutors have finally won a conviction for a militant linked to the devastating al Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 dead and 4,000 injured and marked the group’s emergence as America’s top terrorist adversary.
A federal judge Friday sentenced Khaled al-Fawwaz, a top former advisorto Osama bin Laden, to life in prison. He was convicted in February on four conspiracy counts in connection to the 1998 attack, which killed 12 Americans.
The twin truck bomb attacks in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi prompted then-President Bill Clinton to launch Operation Infinite Reach, which consisted of cruise missile strikes in Somalia and Afghanistan. The missiles fired into east Africa destroyed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Somalia, a facility that ended up having no connection to al Qaeda or bin Laden.
Strikes in Afghanistan destroyed four training camps and were an effort to kill bin Laden, who was believed to be at the Zhawar Kili al-Badr base. He left hours before the missiles struck.
After 9/11, Clinton came under fierce criticism for not having mounted a more muscular attempt to kill bin Laden.
The bombings in Kenya and Tanzania were the second attack by al Qaeda against American targets. In 1992, the group bombed a hotel in Yemen, where U.S. troops had been staying in route to Somalia. The service members were not at the hotel when a series of bombs went off, but two American tourists were killed.
Fawwaz was not convicted for planning the embassy bombing, but on four conspiracy counts. A the time of the attacks, he was in London disseminating bin Laden’s messages and sending supplies to terror cells in Africa. He was arrested in London in 1998, then extradited to the United States in 2012 after a long legal fight.
Lawyers for Fawwaz said he deserved less than life in prison because he was not as responsible for the attacks as other al Qaeda leaders. But prosecutors argued to Judge Lewis Kaplan that Fawwaz was the leader of a terrorist cell in Kenya in the 1990s who was once the ninth most powerful person in al Qaeda.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he is the 10th person to be convicted or to plead guilty in connection to the bombings.