US appeals court upholds life sentence of convicted al-Qaeda operative

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Aug. 24 upheld the life sentence imposed on a former Osama bin Laden aide after he stabbed a prison guard in the eye in 2000. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, 54, is a Sudanese-born Iraqi who at the time of the stabbing was awaiting trial in a conspiracy case that included the 1998 attack on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2002 Salim pleaded guilty to attempted murder of and conspiracy to murder a federal official after he stabbed Louis Pepe, a guard at the federal jail in lower Manhattan, with a plastic comb in November 2000. Salim appealed his sentence primarily on the ground that his right to be physically present at the sentencing hearing was violated when he attended by videoconference. The court ruled that the US District Court for the Southern District of New York erred in finding that the government had met its burden of proving that Salim had waived his right to be present at the hearing, but under plain error review found that Salim was not prejudiced by the error. The court also rejected Salim’s arguments that the life sentence was unreasonable.

In 2008 the Second Circuit ruled that Salim could be resentenced according to heightened standards for acts of terrorism. The government argued that the district court should have imposed a longer sentence according to the enhanced sentencing guidelines for acts of terrorism. The Second Circuit agreed, rejecting the district court’s contention that the crime could not be considered terrorism because it did not transcend national boundaries. The appeals court held that the terrorism enhancement does not require transnational conduct, stating that “Congress could have defined ‘Federal crime of terrorism’ to include a requirement that the offense conduct transcend national boundaries, but it did not.” 

From Jurist, Aug. 24. Used with permission.


  1. Not everything terrorists do is terrorism
    For the record, World War 4 Report objects in the strongest terms to the notion that stabbing a prison guard constitutes “terrorism.” Is that like Stinger missiles being considered “weapons of mass destruction” when people we don’t like are using them? We say the lower court had it right in rejecting the enhanced sentencingā€”not because the attack didn’t “transcend national boundaries,” but because it wasn’t “terrorism” at all. This case may not be specious in the sense that we have for years been documentingā€”that is, cases in which the “terrorist” plot or connection turns out to be a creation of FBI infiltrators. But it seems specious in its elastic definition of “terrorism.”

  2. Convict resentenced to life for 1998 embassy bombings

    A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 23 resentenced Wadih El-Hage to life in prison for his role in the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. El-Hage was permitted to speak before the sentencing, where he complained that the jury was biased and given improper instructions and that his lawyers should have allowed him to testify. Judge Lewis Kaplan issued a sentence of life in prison, saying that he believed El-Hage was a committed terrorist who would commit further acts of terrorism if permitted to do so. El-Hage is currently serving his sentence at the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

    El-Hage, a former personal secretary to Osama Bin Laden, was tried and convicted on conspiracy and other charges in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. A federal appeals court upheld the conviction in 2008 but ordered a resentencing because the original life sentence was based on federal mandatory sentencing guidelines invalidated by the US Supreme Court in 2005.

    From Jurist, April 24. Used with permission.