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updated 5/3/2004 6:36:50 PM ET 2004-05-03T22:36:50

A former top aide to Osama bin Laden was sentenced Monday to 32 years behind bars for stabbing a prison guard in the eye with a sharpened comb.

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, 46, buried his face in his hands and put his head down as the guard, Louis Pepe, waved a black comb and told of the attack in 2000 that left him brain-damaged and barely able to see.

U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts ordered the victim removed from the courtroom after he shouted: “I’m dead! You understand that? I’m dead!”

After Pepe left the courtroom, followed in protest by more than a dozen prison guards, Salim told the judge: “I’m sorry. I’m trying to understand his loss.”

Salim still faces trial and a possible life sentence on conspiracy charges in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Mary Altaffer  /  AP FILE
Former federal corrections officer Louis Pepe holds up a sheet of paper Sunday prepared to help him testify about the events of Nov. 1, 2000, when Mamdouh Mahmud Salim stabbed him in the eye at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. As a result of the attack, Pepe has speech difficulties and is unable to read.
His accomplice in the attack on Pepe — Khalfan Khamis Mohamed — was convicted in the embassy bombings case, which included charges related to the stabbing.

Salim has said he attacked the guard to try to get the prison keys and stab his two court-appointed lawyers waiting in a nearby conference room so that the judge in the terrorism case would be forced to appoint him new lawyers.

The government maintained that he planned to take hostages and organize a prison escape.

The judge called the attack “appalling” and said it was an “unusually cruel, brutal, gratuitous infliction of injury.”

Batts also ordered Salim to pay Pepe $4.7 million, an amount likely never to be paid unless hidden assets are identified somewhere.

Prosecutors say that Salim, a Sudanese trained as an engineer in Iraq, was one of the founders of al-Qaida who issued religious decrees for bin Laden and operated training camps and safe houses in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The attack on Pepe occurred in 2000, when Salim and four others were awaiting trial for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The Aug. 7, 1998, bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands.

Salim’s case was separated after he stabbed the prison guard. His four co-defendants were convicted in May 2001 and sentenced to life terms without parole. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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