Another suspect arrested in FBI investigation

MOHAMMED SALAMEH, the man accused as an accomplice in the bombing of the World Trade Center, was either constructing a clumsy alibi, or desperate for a few dollars. Those seem to be two possible explanations for his weird behaviour immediately after the blast that shook the 110-storey building and left gaping holes in its foundations.

Late last night, as police continued their investigation into possible motives, it emerged that a second suspect had been arrested. The man, Ibrahim Elgabrowny, was remanded in custody yesterday on federal charges of obstruction of justice for hitting two agents who were trying to search him at his apartment on Thursday in connection with the bombing. When he was arrested, authorities found fraudulent Nicaraguan passports, a 9mm pistol, 150 rounds of ammunition and two stun guns in his apartment.

Mr Salameh, less than two hours after the bomb exploded, killing five and injuring more than 1,000, was at a truck rental office in New Jersey, where he is alleged to have rented the van used to carry the bomb to the centre. He said the van had been stolen outside a supermarket, and he wanted his dollars 400 ( pounds 290) deposit back.

He was advised he had to report the theft to the police, but returned to the rental company on Monday, three days after the bombing, having failed to file a police report but still demanding his money - and dollars 20 on top for the petrol he had put in the tank. The rental agency, still unaware the van had been used to carry the bomb, again refused to give him his money.

On Wednesday, FBI agents sifting through the debris in the basement garage of the centre found the van's crank case with a serial number on it. They quickly traced the van to the truck rental company and to Mr Salameh. Hoping he would call again for his money, two FBI agents posed as employees of the company and on Thursday morning they laid a trap.

On Thursday morning they called Mr Salameh at the number he had written down on the rental agreement, and told him to come and collect the refund. Instead of the dollars 400, the agents gave him dollars 200, but he apparently left satisfied. He had gone a few hundred yards when agents pounced on him and made him the first suspect in the bombing. If he had been constructing an alibi it had gone seriously wrong.

The FBI raided several addresses, prompted by the records of Mr Sala meh's driving licence provided to the rental firm. These showed he had once lived in the same building as El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian currently serving up to 23 years for crimes related to the killing of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the Israeli right-wing extremist, in New York in 1990.

Mr Nosair frequently worshipped at a mosque in Jersey City and at the Brooklyn mosque of the blind Muslim cleric, Sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman, who stood trial in Egypt for the assassination of President Anwar al Sadat, a decade ago.

The cleric was acquitted and has since emerged as the spiritual leader of a movement said to be behind dozens of violent attacks in Egypt including the shooting of foreign tourists.

Mr Salameh, 26, also worshipped at the same mosques, apparently, and is said to be a follower of Mr Abdul- Rahman, who has been living in Brooklyn. He came to the US on a tourist visa in 1990, and is now the target of efforts by federal government to deport him on the grounds of 'moral turpitude' - because he has three wives. He has been free while awaiting a decision by a federal judge, but he vanished a week ago, just before the bombing.

The FBI have not said they are looking for the cleric, but they believe several others besides Mr Salameh were involved in the bombing.

The FBI bureau tried to keep Mr Salameh's name out of the news before he was charged with being an accomplice in the bombing on Thursday evening, but they failed. They may now be hunting other suspects who by this time are well alerted.

(Photograph omitted)