Africa Wants Harsh Penalties for Embassy Bombing Suspects?

By Julius Mokaya | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Kenya and Tanzania want stiff penalties imposed on terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in the two East African nations.

Four men are now on trial in New York City, accused of conspiracy in the bombings, which killed more than 240 people. Referring to that trial, senior Kenyan and Tanzanian officials said Thursday that if the men are convicted, harsh punishments should be imposed to help discourage international terrorism.

"My government's plea to the United States judiciary and investigators is that they should punish the suspected criminals heavily so as to discourage others from similar acts," said Tanzania's High Commissioner (ambassador) to Kenya, Maj.-Gen. M.S.H. Sarakikya.

"Our people lost lives unfairly and we do not see any reason why leniency should be exercised to the callous terrorists," he said.

"This is one of the highly profile cases internationally involving terrorism targeted at the United States government and her interests and we are asking the prosecutors and the judges that terrorism has no place in modern times and it should be discouraged by all means," added Kenya's Foreign Minister, Bonaya Godana.

The two men said Western countries that could be targets of terrorists should help developing nations establish mechanisms to detect and deter terrorist activities.

Godana said Kenya would continue to co-operate with the U.S. authorities to ensure that "all the culprits involved in the heinous act are brought to book, either in Kenya or in the U.S."

The four men on trial in Manhattan are accused by prosecutors of plotting - together with other named suspects still at large - "to kill Americans anywhere in the world they are found."

Wadih el-Hage, a Lebanese-born naturalized U.S. citizen; Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali of Saudi Arabia; Tanzanian national Khalfan Khamis Mohamed; and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, a Jordanian, are charged with conspiring with Bin Laden, a Saudi-born militant, to kill American troops and civilians.

The case is based on a lengthy indictment against Bin Laden and 21 alleged associates, which accuses them of schemes beginning in 1989, and included the 1998 embassy bombings.

Two of the defendants are also charged with conspiring to kill U.S. servicemen stationed in Saudi Arabia and Somalia.

Bin Laden, who is understood to be sheltering in Afghanistan, is among 13 fugitives still at large. The U.S. is offering rewards of $5 million for information leading to their arrest. Another three defendants are fighting extradition from Britain.

"They are lucky the trial is being conducted in the United States," remarked a relative of one the people who died in the Nairobi blast.

"If it was here we would break into the courtroom and lynch them. We are still bitter."

But some in Kenya's Muslim community saw it differently, saying the trial should have been carried out in the respective nations where the bombings took place.

"These people are being persecuted because of their Muslim faith," said Sheikh Ali Juma, of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

"If indeed they are the prime suspects they should have been tried in Tanzania and Kenya. Why take them to the U.S.?"

Print and electronic media in East Africa are devoting a sizeable amount of space and airtime to the trial since it started on Monday.