By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday set a trial date for three militants, including an alleged senior al Qaeda figure, charged in the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan set a date of November 3, 2014 and ordered the three defendants to stand trial together rather than separating the cases.
The defendants are Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas al-Liby, a Libyan seized by U.S. forces on October 5; Egyptian Adel Bary; and Saudi Khalid al-Fawwaz, former London spokesman for Osama bin Laden.
All three have pleaded not guilty to involvement in the 1998 bombings, which killed 224 people.
They sat in the jury box during Thursday's hearing with earphones connected to an interpreter's microphone, wearing identical blue prison jumpsuits, white Muslim prayer caps and chains around their hands.
Defense lawyers asked Kaplan to consider pushing the trial into 2015. Bernard Kleinman, who represents Liby, said his preparation would be slowed by the fact that his client speaks little English, requiring an interpreter for meetings and a translator for documents that need to be reviewed by Liby.
Kaplan said he would be willing to reconsider the trial date next year if it proves too ambitious.
Bobbi Sternheim, a lawyer for Fawwaz, also asked Kaplan to separate Liby's trial from that of her client and Bary, both of whom have been in custody in the United Kingdom or the United States for more than a decade.
Sternheim said the government planned to introduce evidence against Liby after September 11, 2001, that might convince jurors to hold Fawwaz and Bary partly responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
"The world is very different post-9/11," she said, adding that jurors can see the World Trade Center site from the window in Kaplan's courtroom.
Kaplan said he would consider seating two separate juries, one for Liby and one for Fawwaz and Bary, and excuse the latter from the courtroom when certain evidence was presented to avoid any prejudice, an unusual but not unheard of arrangement. But he said it's too early to determine whether that would be appropriate.
U.S. officials allege Liby is a senior al Qaeda member who served as a liaison between militant groups in North Africa and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who now leads the remnants of al Qaeda's core operation based in Pakistan.
Liby was initially kept aboard a Navy ship for interrogation before being brought to the United States to face charges when his health began deteriorating.
The case is U.S. v. Hage et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 98-cr-1023.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Kenneth Barry)