NEW YORK — A man charged in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa was a top aide to Osama bin Laden in the early days of al-Qaida and worked hard to spread his message to kill Americans, a prosecutor said Thursday at the start of his terrorism trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin, speaking to an anonymous Manhattan jury, said Khaled al-Fawwaz was in regular contact with bin Laden and a key member of al-Qaida in the early days of a terrorist organization blamed for the embassy attacks.
"The defendant worked for years directly and personally for Osama bin Laden," Lewin said. "The defendant spent years helping craft al-Qaida's message to the world."
Lewin said al-Fawwaz led one of al-Qaida's early training camps and helped lead a cell of terrorists in Africa. He said al-Fawwaz made sure bin Laden's 1996 declaration of war against the United States reached the world by communicating with the media and helping translate bin Laden's words for multiple audiences.
Al-Fawwaz's lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, said the narrative presented by the government of her client was wrong.
"He never shared those horrible views of Osama bin Laden. He never shared al-Qaida's support of violence," she said, describing her client as a man who grew up in Saudi Arabia and learned English from watching cartoons.
She called al-Fawwaz "a man who believes that you make change with information and words, not violence, not bloodshed, not destruction."
Al-Fawwaz is being tried alone in twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
He was extradited from Great Britain in 2012 with al-Qaida operative Adel Abdul Bary. Abdul Bary is awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty in September to charges carrying a maximum of 25 years in prison.
A third defendant, Abu Anas al-Libi, was snatched off the streets of Libya in 2013. He died this month after a long illness.