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Alleged al Qaeda figure pleads guilty to assaulting guard

From Phil Hirschkorn

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The alleged highest-ranking former associate of Osama bin Laden in U.S. custody has pleaded guilty to attempted murder charges and now faces life in prison.

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, 45, from Sudan, who prosecutors say co-founded al Qaeda and formerly ran its businesses, entered his plea Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where he has been under indictment since 1998.

Salim pleaded guilty to two of the 10 counts against him stemming from the jailhouse stabbing of a corrections officers 17 months ago.


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The plea occurred only a week before Salim was to stand trial. Judge Deborah Batts accepted the plea, canceled the trial and scheduled Salim's sentencing for August 5.

Salim faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for admitting to conspiracy to murder a federal official and a maximum of 20 years for the attempted murder of that official.

The government has agreed to drop the remaining eight charges, which included attempted hostage taking and attempted escape from prison.

The agreement was a major condition for Salim, who answered the court in English, at times with the aide of an Arabic interpreter.

"I want to be sure no one can use ... this case, which is void ... against me anytime for any reason in any other court," Salim said. Batts told him that was correct.

In a written statement, U.S. Attorney James Comey said, "The defendant has accepted responsibility for the most heinous charges, the only appropriate sentence for which, as we advised the defendant today, is life in prison without the possibility of parole or release."

The jailhouse stabbing occurred while Salim and four other defendants were awaiting trial for the 1998 bombings of U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000 others. A jury last May convicted the other four men, who have been sentenced to life in prison.

Salim is not accused of a direct role in the bombings, but he is still charged with federal terror conspiracy charges that could also bring a life sentence. That case is still pending before another judge.

Investigators arrested Salim in Bavaria, Germany, in September 1998. He was extradited from Germany three months later, after U.S. prosecutors guaranteed he would not face the death penalty.

On November 1, 2000, prosecutors alleged that Salim jabbed a sharpened comb, purchased in the Manhattan Correctional Center commissary, into the eye of guard Louis Pepe.

Pepe was left blinded in that eye, paralyzed in half of his body, and unable to speak clearly.

FBI agents have said that they found threatening notes in Salim's cell that bore at least one fingerprint from Salim.

The jail no longer sells combs to inmates.




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