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Prosecutors: Sheik Was Rich Man With Followers

February 2, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman was rich in followers and in cash, including $61,000 stashed at his apartment, when he was arrested _ evidence that he led and financed fellow Muslims in a plot to terrorize Americans, a prosecutor says.

Abdel-Rahman and 11 alleged disciples are on trial in the biggest terrorism trial in U.S. history. They are accused of plotting to bomb New York City landmarks to force a change in U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The government began presenting its case Wednesday, calling two FBI agents to testify and countering the defense’s description of the 56-year-old blind Egyptian cleric as a man of modest means.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald scoffed at that as he tried to enter into evidence a photograph of FBI agents counting money on the sheik’s bed after raiding his Jersey City, N.J., apartment.

``Living in modest means,″ he said with sarcasm. ``He has hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank accounts and $61,000 in $100 bills sitting in his apartment.″

The allegations were made in court but out of the jury’s presence after testimony began following opening statements.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey said he would allow testimony about the money to be put before the jury today.

Fitzgerald questioned Agent Harlen Bell about Abdel-Rahman’s leadership of men he said were fighting holy wars in the United States and Egypt.

Bell testified Abdel-Rahman was consulted by ``hundreds″ of ``jihad-oriented people in Egypt and in the United States ... about the propriety of acts to be considered.″

``Is he the boss of the bosses?″ a defense lawyer asked Bell.

``Sheik Rahman is the ideological leader. He gives views and is consulted for opinions,″ Bell answered.

Fitzgerald also asked him about a May 23, 1993, conversation Abdel-Rahman had with another defendant in the case and a government informant about whether it was right to bomb the United Nations and FBI headquarters.

Bell said the conversation was taped.

Taped conversations, which number in the hundreds, are expected to be a key ingredient in the prosecution’s efforts to convict the defendants of a Civil War-era charge of seditious conspiracy.

If found guilty, they could face life in prison.

The defendants’ targets allegedly included the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and George Washington Bridge, which connect New York City with New Jersey, as well as the UN and FBI headquarters. They also allegedly plotted to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and kidnap former President Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

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