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Saudi Called Al-Qaida’s ‘Bridge to|the West’ as Terror Trial Concludes

MANHATTAN (CN) - When New York's latest terrorism trial began, one prosecutor described Khalid al-Fawwaz as "bin Laden's man in London." His colleague upped the ante in closing arguments Wednesday by calling the Saudi man al-Qaida's "bridge to the West."

Summing up the nearly month-long trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Buckley began his remarks by holding up the first copy printed in a newspaper of bin Laden's 1998 fatwa calling for the murder of U.S. citizens and Jews around the world.

The scoop went to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a pan-Arab broadsheet based in London, and was printed months before simultaneous truck bombings rocked two U.S. Embassies.

The Aug. 8, 1998, attacks in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 224 people and injured thousands of others.

While there's no evidence suggesting al-Fawwaz played an active role in those attacks, prosecutor Buckley told jurors that the Saudi served a more "chilling" function for al-Qaida as its "expert on how to reach the Western media."

"The way that you terrorize people is to get into their homes, and to get into their hearts, and to get into their minds," Buckley said.

ABC's John Miller and CNN's Peter Arnett testified during the government's case that al-Fawwaz helped him arrange interviews with bin Laden. Both spoke of the extensive security restrictions and vetting phrases that al-Qaida forced them to undergo. Miller told jurors he overheard al-Qaida members laughing about slitting the throats of U.S. peacekeepers in Somalia.

Speaking of al-Qaida's use of the news media, Buckley said: "They need people to make sure the world understands why it is that the bombs went off, and who set the bombs."

Several drafts of bin Laden's 1998 fatwa were recovered from electronic media found in al-Fawwaz's home and his office at the so-called Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), which described itself as an organization for Saudi dissidents.

Prosecutors consider it little more than an al-Qaida front organization.

Evidence presented at trial showed al-Fawwaz's name appearing with bin Laden's on ARC letterhead.

Al-Fawwaz admits that he met bin Laden in Afghanistan as the mujihadeen - the plural form of mujahid, meaning one engaged in jihad - fought to repel the Soviet invasion of their country. He asserts that they worked together at ARC to oppose the Saudi government, but insists that he never signed onto bin Laden's bloody agenda.

Rejecting this position, Lewin said: "That is just absurd, ladies and gentlemen."

A secret list of al-Qaida members the U.S. military retrieved from raids in Kandahar showed that al-Fawwaz ranked ninth on its list, under the nom de guerre Hamad al-Kuwaiti.

A note next to that name states "captured in England in 1998," the year of al-Fawwaz's arrest. The Saudi spent more than a decade fighting extradition to the United States before losing that battle in 2011.

While defense attorneys have contested the list's reliability, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan allowed its introduction into evidence, and Buckley told jurors that the inside information that the list has on al-Qaida proves its reliability.

The list placed al-Qaida's late military commander Mohammed Otef at the second place, just below bin Laden.

Jurors heard several intercepted phone calls between Otef and al-Fawwaz about the U.S. news media - and the vetting process for reporters seeking interviews.

In one conversation, al-Fawwaz pitched Readers Digest as a possible news outlet, a translated transcript shows.

"The American people are keen on reading it," al-Fawwaz said, according to the transcript. "This is what I know."

The jury heard detailed accounts of al-Qaida members from Moroccan L'Houssaine Kherchtou, a frequent cooperating witness for the government who typically testifies that he served as bin Laden's pilot.

Kherchtou appeared as Abu Talal on the list, in the 104th spot.

The late Abu Anas al-Libi, the pseudonym of al-Fawwaz's former co-defendant Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai, appeared at number 13. Al-Libi succumbed to terminal liver cancer weeks before trial started in January.

Egyptian Adel Abdel Bary, Al-Fawwaz's other co-defendant, pleaded guilty to lesser charges that could spell his release from prison after eight years.

Al-Fawwaz, on the other hand, faces the possibility of life imprisonment, if convicted of the terrorism conspiracies charged.

Buckley had not finished the government's closing arguments before court recessed Wednesday. Defense summations will likely begin Thursday, followed by the government's rebuttal before jury deliberations.

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