Life sentence for Bin Laden's secretary

Osama bin Laden’s former secretary got a life sentence for the 1998 bombing of two US embassies.

Osama bin Laden. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK - A former personal secretary to Osama bin Laden was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday, for the second time, for participating in a conspiracy to kill Americans that included the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa.

Wadih El-Hage, a Lebanese-born US citizen and former al Qaeda member, was one of four people convicted in 2001 for their roles in bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured thousands.

El-Hage, 52, was convicted in 2001 on charges including conspiring to kill US nationals and destroy government-owned buildings, in addition to multiple counts of perjury. He was re-sentenced on Tuesday after a prior life term was reversed in 2008 and sent back to the district court.

His lawyers sought leniency. But in handing down the new sentence, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan cited El-Hage's lack of remorse and the likelihood the man he termed a "committed terrorist" would resume his activities if released.

"It is necessary to deter others," Kaplan said. "It is necessary to prevent you from resuming terrorist activities."

The case, dating back to the Clinton administration, provided a fresh reminder of US prosecutors' abilities to prosecute cases involving terrorism charges in civilian courts.

Debate had surged in recent days over the federal government's decision on Monday to prosecute Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a Massachusetts court rather than before a military commission as an "enemy combatant."

El-Hage was a former personal secretary of bin Laden, who was indicted in the same 1998 case for masterminding the embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

El-Hage, who was in Texas with his family at the time of the embassy bombings, was not accused of directly carrying them out.

Instead, he was convicted of helping establish al Qaeda's front businesses following the move of its operations to Sudan in 1989 and of lying to a Manhattan federal grand jury probing bin Laden and al Qaeda.

A different judge, US District Judge Leonard Sand, had previously sentenced El-Hage to life in prison in October 2001, just a month after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

But the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, while upholding his conviction, reversed his sentence in 2008, citing a 2005 US Supreme Court case that struck down the mandatory application of federal sentencing guidelines used in his case.

El-Hage, who's re-sentencing had been scheduled for as early as 2009 but was pushed back at the request of the defence, called his conviction an injustice and contended the jury was biased.

"Most importantly, God knows this and he does not stand for injustice, and he punishes swiftly and severely for injustice," he said.

As part of his new sentence, Kaplan also ordered El-Hage to pay $33.8 million in restitution.