New York's terrorist sheikh jailed for life

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The Independent Online

New York

Closing the book on the largest terrorism trial in American history, a federal court yesterday sentenced Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman to life imprisonment for his role as the leader of a foiled plot to bomb prime landmarks in New York.

Also sentenced to long jail terms last night were nine followers of the sheikh, including El Sayyid Nosair, who was also sent to prison for life for his part in the plot and for killing militant Rabbi Meir Kahane in a Manhattan hotel in 1990.

All 10 men were convicted last October of preparing what prosecutors termed a "war of urban terrorism" in the city, specificially by conspiring to blow up targets such as the United Nations tower, the George Washington Bridge and the Holland Tunnel.

Abdel-Rahman, 57, a blind Egyptian cleric, who was identified as the spiritual leader of the group, was also convicted in the trial of trying to orchestrate the assassination of Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. That alone implied a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

The eight other men, all of whom were sentenced separately under unusual security arrangements and immediately transported to different federal prisons last night, received sentences raging from 25 to 57 years. In appeals for leniency to Judge Michael Mukassey, all pleaded innocence.

The sentencing came two years after four others were convicted and imprisoned for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The 10 in court yesterday were accused of being part of the Twin Tower plot but were not specifically charged with it.

Nosair claimed that they were none the less being forced to pay for the Trade Center bombing. "Because of the boming of the World Trade Center, the government made up this case," he protested to the judge.

The sentences were decried by Mohammed Mehdi, the president of the American- Arab Relations Committee. "It seems America has a need for foreign villains," he said. "With the demise of communism, Islam is the candidate. The trial was really a show to intimidate the American Muslims.''

Those sentenced yesterday with the sheikh and Nosair were Moahammed Saleh, 35; Fadil Abdelghani, 25; Tarig Elhassan, 35; Fares Khallafalla, 30; Amir Abdelgani, 30; Victor Alvarez, 35; Clement Hampton El, 35; and Ibrahim Elgabrowny, 57.

The sentencing prompted unusual security arrangements at the downtown Manhattan court with scores of police on the streets outside it wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying semi-automatic weapons.

Among those who pleaded innocence was Saleh, who said he had come to the US to finish his college degree and raise five children. He was given the maximum sentence by the judge, who said he had committed a "monstrous crime".