A Saudi man who served as a lieutenant to Osama bin Laden and publicized his religious edict urging followers to kill Americans was sentenced to life in prison Friday on conspiracy charges that included the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
In a dramatic courtroom scene, a bearded Khaled al-Fawwaz, 52, sat staring ahead as he was castigated by bombing victims and family members, who told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan that their lives had been shattered.
"I'm totally blind," said Ellen Karas of Texas, who lost her sight in the bombing of the embassy in Kenya and was accompanied in court by a black Labrador retriever. "I had a career ahead of me. That's gone. Now, I have a guide dog."
Al-Fawwaz, who claimed at trial that he had become involved with bin Laden because he sought political reforms in the Middle East but never supported violence, turned to the audience when it was his turn to speak.
"I can't find words to express how sorry I am," he said, speaking in a British accent. "I regret I associated with people who I now know engaged in violence."
But Kaplan rejected leniency.
"I'm convinced that you believed that accomplishing bin Laden's ends was so important that the means -- the murders, the terror, the violence -- were justified," the judge said. "The ends were too important for you to give priority to peace over violence."
The bombings in Kenya and Tanzania took 224 lives. After a series of prosecutions in federal court in Manhattan that began before Sept. 11, 2001, 10 people have been convicted, many -- including bin Laden himself -- are dead, and no more are in custody, prosecutors said.
Al-Fawwaz was convicted in February of running an al-Qaida training camp, leading a Kenyan terror cell, then going to London to help spread bin Laden's call for jihad and arrange interviews for Western journalists. Arrested in 1998, he fought extradition and was finally brought to Manhattan in 2012 to face trial.
Prosecutors and victims urged the judge to impose a life sentence. "We want to insist you take responsibility for these murders for the rest of your life," Edith Bartley, a lawyer who lost two relatives, said to al-Fawwaz.
Those attending included family members of Kenyan workers who died at the embassy, part of a group that won a court judgment against Sudan for aiding al-Qaida but which has so far been disappointed in lobbying for funds forfeited to the Justice Department by a bank that violated sanctions on Sudan.
Grace Kimata of Nairobi, whose late husband worked in the embassy shipping department, said the life sentence went only so far. "That doesn't help me so much," she said. "It has been hell to cope without my husband."
"It does provide a small amount of closure, but that doesn't detract from the elephant in the room," said Paul Vrontamitis, a Greek man whose mother died in the blast. "After 17 years, no victims have received any form of compensation."
A Justice Department spokesman said a website has been set up to sort through claimants to $3.8 billion forfeited to the federal government by BNP Paribas for violating sanctions on Cuba, Sudan and Iran, as part of a plea on May 1.