Profile: Hani El-Sayegh
Hani El-Sayegh was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US deports Hani El-Sayegh, a Saudi National who is a suspect in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing (see June 25, 1996), back to Saudi Arabia. [Grey, 2007, pp. 247] The deportation is approved by a US judge. [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
History - In 1996, el-Sayegh, who had been living in Iran, moved to Kuwait. He later went to Canada, where he cut a deal with American officials that called for him to plead guilty in an unrelated plot against Americans in Saudi Arabia that was never carried out. In 1997, Canada expelled el-Sayegh for suspected terrorist activity. Attorney General Janet Reno allowed him into the United States solely for prosecution under the pact. But after arriving, he said he had not understood the accord, knew nothing about the Khobar attack, and was out of Saudi Arabia when the bombing occurred. Despite this, the Saudis suspected him of being present at the bombing and his brother was held in connection with it, and allegedly tortured in a Saudi jail. [New York Times, 10/12/1999]
Agreement - The deportation follows an agreement between FBI Director Louis Freeh and Prince Naif, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister. Under the agreement, el-Sayagh is returned to Saudi Arabia, and, according to officials familiar with the arrangement, FBI agents will be allowed to watch his interrogation through a one-way mirror and submit questions to his Saudi inquisitors. Washington Post journalist David Vine will comment, “Such practices are sharply at odds with Freeh’s oft-stated message about the FBI’s need to respect human dignity and the tenets of democracy while fighting crime.” Although FBI officials will say a year later they have not seen any indication that el-Sayegh has been tortured, Vine will add, “But agents say privately that when entering a foreign culture to do police work they do not have control over how prisoners are treated and must tread lightly.” [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
Khobar Towers Attack Could Have Been Prosecuted in US - The Khobar Towers attacks may have been in Saudi Arabia, but were against US nationals, so suspects can be prosecuted in the US. Tony Karon of Time magazine will express surprise at the deportation: “Run that one by again: The United States doesn’t want to try a man suspected of a bomb attack that killed Americans—and they’re sending him home?!” However, the Justice Department apparently thinks there is not enough evidence to try him in the US, and, according to Time correspondent William Dowell, “Clearly, there’s a lower standard of proof in Saudi courts,” so, “It may be easier for Washington if the Saudis handle the trial—and the execution, which would likely follow.”
Possible Geopolitical Motive - According to Karon, an alternative explanation is that geopolitics may be behind the decision: “Sending el-Sayegh… back to Saudi Arabia could solve another touchy problem for Washington.” This is because President Clinton said the US would retaliate against any government that was involved in the attacks, and an Iranian hand is suspected in the bombing. However, according to Time Middle East bureau chief Scott Macleod: “the attack occurred before the election of President Khatami, who has clearly demonstrated a commitment to end state terrorism and normalize Iran’s relations with the rest of the world. Given Washington’s desire to strengthen his reformist government against its hard-line opponents, the US would be unlikely to take military action against Iran unless there were fresh acts of terrorism.” [Time, 10/5/1999]
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