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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Backs Warrantless Searches Outside the U.S.

(CN) - Authorities can search and spy on U.S. citizens in foreign countries without a warrant, a federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled. The 2nd Circuit relied on evidence gleaned through warrantless searches and surveillance in its decision to uphold the convictions of three al-Qaida terrorists linked to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

The Bush administration said the ruling gives the government greater leverage to sniff out terrorism abroad. In separate filings, the three-judge panel rejected the defendants' assertion that the evidence used to convict them violated their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.

"Our review of this complex and difficult case leaves us confident that defendants received a fair trial," Judge Cabranes wrote in the unanimous opinion.

Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali and Wadih El-Hage challenged their convictions on many other grounds, but the court dismissed everything but a claim that El-Hage was entitled to re-sentencing.

The embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania claimed the lives of 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands more. After lengthy trials, the juries unanimously found the defendants guilty. The conspirators were sentenced to life in prison.

El-Hage, a naturalized U.S. citizen and close associate of Osama bin Laden, served as head of the Nairobi al-Qaida cell. In February 2007, he relayed a message from bin Laden directing his cell to brace for military activity. He then lied about his conversation with bin Laden while testifying before a grand jury investigating the terrorist network.

Odeh was scooped up at an airport for lacking proper travel documents. Authorities discovered explosives residue on his clothing and items in his suitcase. A search of his house unearthed sketches of the embassies and bomb sites, and a budget sheet that included "weapons and artilleries" and items needed for "training ... at the camp."

Al-'Owhali helped place the bomb in Nairobi, according to an eyewitness.

The numerous charges against the three men included murder, attempted murder, and using and carrying an explosive while committing a felony.

The 2nd Circuit said the government's evidence supported their convictions, but remanded El-Hage's sentence because it violated Supreme Court precedent.

The court concluded by praising Judge Leonard B. Sand and Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy for their "learned and thorough rulings on the numerous issues - some of first impression - raised in this complicated case."

"We also recognize their conscientious efforts to ensure that the rights of the defendants and the needs of national security were equally met during these proceedings."

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