Stiff Sentences in Terror Bombing Trial
NEW YORK (AP) _ A federal judge today began handing down stiff sentences to the followers of a blind Egyptian cleric in a terrorist conspiracy that targeted the United Nations, FBI offices and other New York landmarks.
The sentencings in U.S. District Court in Manhattan were a precursor to one last ``message″ from the terrorists’ leader, Sheik Omar Adbel-Rahman. His sentencing was to come later today, once his nine co-conspirators receive their jail terms.
The first five terrorists received between 25 and 35 years from Judge Michael Mukasey, who flatly told one defendant: ``You agreed to participate in a conspiracy to commit monstrous crime.″
A dozen city police officers _ twice the usual complement _ patrolled outside and two bomb-sniffing dogs instead of just one were going through the courthouse with federal agents this morning.
Concrete barriers were installed outside the courthouse to prevent vehicles from approaching the building and to keep any demonstrators at bay. However, there were no problems as the sentencings began.
Abdel-Rahman and nine others were convicted Oct. 1 of seditious conspiracy in the plot to bomb the United Nations, FBI headquarters in Manhattan, two tunnels and a bridge connecting New Jersey and New York. The government said the group also was responsible for the Feb. 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and injured more than 1,000.
The government said the defendants wanted to use urban terrorism to pressure the United States into curbing support for Middle East nations that opposed the sheik’s extremist brand of Islam.
The 57-year-old sheik also was convicted in a plot to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Defendants Victor Alvarez, 29, Tarig Elhassan, 40, and Mohammed Saleh, 39, were sentenced to 35 years in prison. Alvarez was portrayed during the nine-month trial as a borderline retarded man from a broken family, but Mukasey was unmoved.
``Forgive me if it sounds cold-hearted, but people who are killed by people with limited capacity are just as dead as people killed by geniuses,″ Mukasey said.
Fadil Abdelgani, 33, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and Fares Khallafalla, 33, to 30 years as the first five sentencings were done in less than three hours. Abdelgani was captured on videotape mixing chemicals for a potential bomb.
Mukasey said the varying sentences were tied to each terrorist’s involvement in the plot. Defendants who took the stand and lied also received harsher sentences, Mukasey said.
All the defendants, speaking before their individual sentencings, proclaimed their innocence.
``I am not a crazy man,″ Alvarez said. ``I never knew of any plot to bomb anything in the United States. This is my country.″
Abdel-Rahman’s lawyer said his client planned to speak for up to 30 minutes before his sentencing, not expected until late in the afternoon.
The speech won’t be an apology or appeal for leniency, lawyer Lynne Stewart said.
``Traditionally for political prisoners it has been a time when they state their values and renew their ... commitment to the cause,″ Stewart said. ``He’s not going to pull any punches. It’s intended to be a message.″
Facing another life sentence was El Sayyid Nosair, who was also convicted in the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane.
The rest of the defendants were expected to be sentenced to at least 20 to 30 years in prison.
During the nine-month trial, the government portrayed the sheik as the director of a wide range of plots who would have to give the final go-ahead before any terrorism could be carried out.
Stewart maintained that Abdel-Rahman was merely a spiritual and inspirational guide.