For 16 years, Edith Bartley has stood strong, the de facto spokeswoman for 11 U.S. families who suffered permanent loss in al-Qaeda's first terrorist attack on American civilians. Bartley came to the Manhattan federal courthouse Friday to see one of the men captured for carrying out al-Qaeda's lethal mission receive his sentence.
Adel Abdel Bary, 54, from Egypt, pleaded guilty last September to the global conspiracy behind the twin truck bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Officially, 224 people died in those attacks, including, 12 Americans. Two fatalities were from the same family.
Edith lost her younger brother, Jay, and her father, Julian, in the Nairobi explosion. Her mother, Sue, who sat in the courtroom gallery as Edith rose, lost her son and her husband. Together, they have advocated for better embassy security, for compensation for pre-9/11 al Qaeda terror, and to always remember its victims.
"My father and my brother were wonderful human beings. No family should have to go through such pain," Edith said as she spoke at a lectern, pausing at times to stay composed.
The family lived in Nairobi because Julian was the consul general at the embassy, the second-ranking official under the ambassador. From Queens, New York, to the Peace Corps to the Foreign Service, Julian had been a diplomat since the late 1960s, taking his wife and children to live adventurously in Kenya, Korea, Israel, Spain, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.
A self-described "daddy's girl," Edith said, "My father loved talking about his family. We meant everything to him." He was 54.
Jay was only 20 and "wise beyond his years," Edith said. When he asked her whether he should spend a year of college in Nairobi to soak in the culture and become more fluent in Swahili, Edith told him, "Go for it."
Jay was a summer intern who loved hanging around the Marines at the embassy. That's where he was when the bomb truck pulled shortly after 10am on August 7, 1998. He was "robbed" of his future by "heinous, cowardly, and barbaric acts of terror," Edith said. "He was my only sibling. I think about him every day."
As she cited the need for all conspirators to be held accountable, Edith cast a glance at Abdel Bary, seated at the defense table in a jail-issued, short-sleeve gray uniform, listening to her words translated into Arabic. He should be forced to think about those deaths in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam for the rest of his life, as she and her mother do, Edith said. The loss is an "unbearable pain and sorrow that never goes away."
"I feel sorry for all the victims," Abdel Bary said through a translator when it was his turn to speak. "If I could just do something to bring the victims back, I would do it. Unfortunately, I can't."
Abdel Bary was in London when the East Africa embassies were bombed, part of a UK cell that disseminated Osama bin Laden's fatwahs calling on Americans to be killed, soldiers and civilians alike, anywhere in the world. He was in regular communication to Afghanistan with Ayman al-Zawahiri, by then bin Laden's second-in-command after Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda, two terrorist groups united against the U.S. for its support for the Mubarak regime and by other grievances.
The day after the embassy bombings, Abdel Bary faxed al Qaeda's statement claiming credit to news outlets in France, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates. The claims threatened further attacks and continued "spreading the terror," said U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan before pronouncing sentence. Abdel Bary has been in custody since his September 1998 arrest in London. His plea agreement called for him to serve 25 years, the maximum for the conspiracy statutes to which he admitted guilt. He originally faced a possible life sentence.
"You are," Kaplan told Abdel Bary, "the beneficiary of an enormously generous plea bargain." With credit for all his time served in UK and the U.S., he could be released in less than nine years.
Kaplan continued, "You, unlike victims of the embassy bombings, may look forward to rejoining your family and living out your natural life in freedom."