Muslims convicted of New York 'terror war'

The most sweeping terrorism trial in American history concluded in New York yesterday with guilty verdicts against 10 Muslim militants who had been accused variously of plotting to blow up buildings, bridges and tunnels, undermine the government and assassinate the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

After 37 hours of deliberation at the end of a trial that had already lasted nine months, the jury in the New York court delivered the verdicts late yesterday morning, vindicating prosecutors who had said that the 10 had come close to unleashing a "war of urban terrorism" on Manhattan, designed to persuade the US government to change its policy in the Middle East.

The leader of the group was Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind 57-year- old Islamic cleric who first came to the US and the New York area in 1990. He was found guilty on five different counts of attempted terrorism, including solicitation to murder President Mubarak.

Also among the defendants was El Sayyid Nosair, a soldier of the Islamic Jihad movement who was separately found guilty of involvement in the 1990 assassination in New York of the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Nosair had been acquitted of the murder in 1991, but jailed for related weapons charges.

At the heart of the trial, however, were the allegations that all eight other defendants had, with the encouragement of Sheikh Rahman, engaged in an elaborate plot to bomb a series of New York buildings and landmarks. According to prosecutors, five bombs were to be detonated in just 10 minutes, destroying two tunnels leading into Manhattan, the George Washington Bridge and the United Nations headquarters.

FBI videos submitted as evidence showed the men mixing bomb-making materials in a New York garage. The defence said the eight believed that the bombs would be used to aid the Muslim side in Bosnia.

The government believes that Sheikh Rahman and Nosair were sent to the United States as part of a wider campaign, led by Islamic Jihad, to destabilise the US government and weaken its friendly ties with Israel and Egypt. The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 was believed to have been part of the campaign.

The World Trade Center attack, which left six dead, was repeatedly evoked by the prosecution during the trial, although no specific evidence linking the ten to it was offered. Four men were jailed for the bombing of the twin towers in a separate trial last year.

The government will celebrate yesterday's convictions, which it hopes will mark the crumbling of the threat by Islamic fundamentalists in New York. The authorities will feel more comfortable having the ten behind bars during the UN 50th anniversary celebrations later this month, when the heads of government of nearly 150 nations will cram into the UN complex.

The defence lawyer for Sheikh Rahman, Lyne Stewart, cried in court yesterday. "He is not the first person to go to prison for his beliefs, and he won't be the last," she said.

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