A South African court has begun hearing a case brought by one of the men accused of bombing the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. Lawyers for Khalfan Mohamed, who is now on trial in New York City, argue he was illegally sent to the United States to face terrorism charges.
Lawyers for Khalfan Mohamed are asking the High Court in Cape Town to rule that it was illegal for South African authorities to hand him over to the FBI. They are also asking the panel of judges to order the South African government to ask the United States not to impose the death penalty if Mr. Mohamed is convicted.
The 27-year-old Tazanian is on trial in New York for the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Dar Es Salaam. South African police arrested him as an illegal immigrant in Cape Town in 1999 and turned him over to the FBI.
His South African legal team is arguing that he should have been deported to his native Tanzania instead. But a spokesman for South Africa's justice minister told VOA that Mr. Mohamed had been given the option of going to Tanzania, but he chose to go to the United States.
Court papers filed by lawyers for President Thabo Mbeki, who is named in the case, say Mr. Mohamed told South African immigration officials he would prefer to go to the United States to stand trial with his brothers. According to the court papers, Mr. Mohamed said he would be recognized as a martyr if he died. If that statement is accurate, he appears to have changed his mind. Mr. Mohamed wants the South African government to request that the United States either not give him the death penalty, or not execute him if the death sentence is imposed.
Mr. Mohamed's legal team argues that South Africa must ensure that his right to life is protected and should have placed a no-death-penalty condition on his deportation. South Africa formally abolished the death penalty in 1996 and had not executed anyone since a moratorium was declared in 1990.
His lawyer told the court Wednesday that the evidence against Mr. Mohamed is compelling and there is a strong possibility that his client will be convicted and receive the death penalty. The Justice Department spokesman would not comment on that aspect of the case, other than to say that the United States is a sovereign nation and South Africa does not intend to intervene in its court proceedings. The Cape Town hearing is expected to take several days.
Mr. Mohamed and three other men face terrorism charges in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. The blasts killed 224 people and injured thousands. They were allegedly masterminded by exiled Saudi Arabian billionaire Osama bin Laden.