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Jury Throws Book at ‘Bin Laden’s Man in London’

MANHATTAN (CN) - A Saudi man tagged as "bin Laden's man in London" could face life imprisonment after a federal jury found him guilty on all counts for his media campaigns supporting al-Qaida.

Moments after a jury's verdict Thursday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara noted in a statement that the conviction of Khalid al-Fawwaz marked the 10th straight conviction of alleged co-conspirators in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

"Dedicating himself to al-Qaida in the early 1990s, Fawwaz was one of Osama bin Laden's original and most trusted lieutenants, serving first as the leader of an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, then as a leader of al-Qaida's terrorist cell in Kenya, and finally as bin Laden's media adviser in London," Bharara said.

Al-Fawwaz ranked 9th on a secret list of al-Qaida operatives that the U.S. military retrieved from Afghanistan, prosecutors say.

"From his one-time place at the top of al-Qaida's membership list, Fawwaz now joins the long membership list of convicted, jailed terrorists," Bharara added.

"That list includes two other major figures in the past year alone, [al-Qaida propagandist] Abu Ghaith and [London-based radical preacher] Abu Hamza, all of whom have received full justice in a Manhattan courtroom - the verdict of 12 ordinary Americans rendered after a fair and open trial," he added.

That remark seemed to be a not-so-subtle comparison of the speedy convictions in New York to the more troubled terrorism prosecutions in Guantanamo Bay.

Just a day before Fawwaz's conviction, a military judge halted against the alleged perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because of a Pentagon order he said could create the appearance of unlawful command influence. The development is sure to bog down a process that already has taken more than seven years and counting.

Though New York's terrorism prosecutions generally have been far smoother, al-Fawwaz's road to trial was not without its hiccups.

British authorities arrested al-Fawwaz shortly after the 1998 bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa killed 224 people, injured thousands and put al-Qaida on the radar of international law enforcement.

Al-Fawwaz staved off extradition to the United States for more than a decade before the European Court of Human Rights approved his transfer with five other men in 2012.

One co-conspirator from Egypt, Adel Abdel Bary, pleaded guilty to lesser charges that could let him return to his family in the United Kingdom within eight years. Another co-defendant, Abu Anas al-Libi, died of liver cancer before trial began.

At the time of al-Fawwaz's arrest, British law enforcement found drafts of what would become Osama bin Laden's fatwa calling for the murder of U.S. citizens and Jews at his London home and office.

Al-Fawwaz's name also appeared next to bin Laden's on letters for an organization known as the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), which prosecutors describe as an al-Qaida "front" group.

The ARC purported to be a group for Saudi dissidents and exiles criticized their home government before the international press in London.

Depicting him as a "calm, serene, peaceful and pious" Saudi dissident, Al-Fawwaz's lawyer Bobbi Stearnheim insisted that her client disavowed bin Laden's self-declared war against the United States.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Buckley called this defense "absurd," adding that al-Fawwaz's pseudonym ranked 9th on a secret al-Qaida list retrieved from a battlefield in Afghanistan.

Al-Fawwaz had great value to al-Qaida as its "expert on how to reach the Western media," Buckley said.

ABC's John Miller and CNN's Peter Arnett testified during the government's case that al-Fawwaz helped them arrange interviews with bin Laden. Both spoke of the extensive security restrictions and vetting phrases that al-Qaida forced them to undergo.

Al-Fawwaz faces the potential of life imprisonment at his sentencing on May 21.

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