October 1, 1995
Web posted at: 1:35 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Brian Jenkins
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A U.S. federal jury on Sunday found Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine others guilty of conspiracy in a plot to blow up the United Nations, kill Egypt's president and bomb vital highway tunnels in New York. The verdict came after 37 hours of deliberations, stretching over seven days. The sheik could be sent to prison for life when he is sentenced in January.
Prosecutors charged that Abdel-Rahman and his co-defendants plotted terrorist acts in an attempt to compel the United States to change its Mideast policy.
Abdel-Rahman's attorney, Lynne Stewart, said he told her he wasn't the first person to be prosecuted for his beliefs and would not be the last (162K AIFF sound or 162K WAV sound).
One of the defendants, El Sayyid Nosair, also was found guilty of the 1991 killing of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. He, too, faces the possibility of life in prison.
The government claimed from the start that defendants captured on an FBI surveillance tape (1.47M QT movie) in a rented garage were cooking up a bombing plot . But the defense argued most of the accused were in the dark and that the the recipe for terror was written by only two men, Emad Salem and Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, a former defendant who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Salem is a former Egyptian army officer-turned-FBI informant who has made more than a million dollars for his efforts.
Siddig Ali, a Sudanese immigrant, boasted to Salem of leading a crack team of terrorists, but then called in acquaintances with virtually no knowledge of explosives, promising to train them to fight with fellow Muslims in Bosnia.
After the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, killing six people, the FBI was desperate to prevent another embarrassment, the defense argued, so agents put Salem back on the payroll, having cut him loose the summer before. He also was working for Egypt's government, the defense claimed, on a mission to frame Abdel-Rahman, the outspoken fundamentalist preacher who had come to the U.S. in 1990.
With audiotape rolling inside a briefcase, Salem manuevered the sheik into his kitchen late one night and asked in a whisper if bombing the United Nations complex was permissable. The Sheik said it would be "bad for Muslims" and told Salem to instead target the American army.
"The sheik is not in the kitchen mixing up bomb formulas," defense attorney Stewart said last week. "He's not handing out books to anybody on how to do it and it would appear the group, if there was a group, never agreed with anything he said." But the sheik had made fiery speeches denouncing the U.S. government and calling on Muslims to force a change in American policy on the Middle East. The prosecution played tapes of those speeches during the trial. It also played tape of Siddig Ali saying the sheik had approved a plan to assassinate Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak.
The lawyer for Nosair claimed his client was an innocent bystander in the murder of Kahane and that his earlier visits to a shooting range with other defendants were part of their training to fight in Afghanistan. "It wasn't a war of urban terrorism," Roger Stavis said after the case went to the jury. "It was a war in Afghanistan. This country knew it and now they're prosecuting (Nosair) for it." A state court in New York tried and acquitted Nosair in the killing, but convicted him of related weapons charges. Prosecutors were able to retry Nosair for the murder because the federal indictment includes the killing as part of the alleged terrorist conspiracy.
The government also claimed the Trade Center explosion was part of the ongoing jihad conspiracy, though it could offer no clear evidence that any of the 10 defendants in this trial played a part in that bombing.
In closing arguments, prosecutors told jurors they have a right to be free from the fear of terrorism and implied that putting the defendants behind bars would lessen the likelihood of another bombing. But defense attorneys called on jurors to set aside fears and preconceptions and judge carefully whether the men on trial truly meant to attack the country where they all chose to live.
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