'Ringleader' in NY bombing under arrest: FBI may have trailed suspects before blast

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A BROOKLYN taxi driver who is a prime suspect in the bombing of the World Trade Center that killed six people but who has been missing since the blast was due to arrive in New York last night under FBI guard after his arrest in Egypt.

He is Mahmud Abu-Halima, who was identified by the FBI two weeks ago as the suspected ringleader in the bombing and who apparently fled the United States when the first suspect, Mohammed Salameh, was arrested. Mr Salameh is alleged to have rented the van used to plant the bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center, and may even have driven it into the underground car park, the FBI believes. He was arrested in New Jersey.

Mr Abu-Halima, 33, flew to Egypt via South Africa after the blast and was arrested by Egyptian authorities during a crackdown on Muslim fundamentalists suspected of carrying out a wave of bombings in Cairo. The Egyptians turned him over to the FBI and he is due to appear in court upon arrival in New York.

Two more arrests in the US in connection with the bombing are imminent, according to FBI sources.

On arrival in New York, Mr Abu- Halima will join Mr Salameh and Nidal Ayyad, a chemical engineer, both 25, as suspects in the bombing. Also under arrest on related charges is Ibrahim Elgabrowny, 42, an Egyptian contractor who allegedly resisted arrest when federal agents searched his Brooklyn home after the blast.

The relative swiftness of the arrests has added weight to the theory that the FBI had been trailing the suspects for some time before the bombing, but FBI officials have refused to comment. The FBI has sought to link the suspects with Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind radical cleric who has been living in exile in the United States. One report said Mr Abu- Halima was once the sheikh's personal driver, but Mr Abdel Rahman has denied any knowledge of the suspects. The Egyptian authorities claim the sheikh is behind the fundamentalist violence in Egypt.

The sheikh, who has been ordered to leave the US for being a bigamist and for bouncing cheques, was seen on Tuesday praying in a park in Jersey City with other Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan.

Followers of the sheikh in Egypt want to end Cairo's secular government and form a religious-based regime. Yesterday in southern Egypt leaflets signed by the cleric calling for the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak and the Cairo government were distributed among his followers. They also said that the sheikh's 'meeting with God is nearing'.

'To you, the most beloved people, to my relatives and fellow men, I say these words mixed with tears and I wish my blood will carve out these words; say no to injustice . . . you strugglers of Egypt, say no . . . Do not weaken, do not submit, do not rest . . . Punish them the same way you have been punished and be aware that God is on our side.'

The insurrectionist leaflets were among the boldest to have been distributed in Egypt by the sheikh, and came after the Egytian government cancelled a non-guilty verdict against him for inciting anti-government violence in 1989, and decided to put him back on trial in absentia next week.

LONDON - One of Egypt's most wanted terrorists was arrested in Qatar this week and, with some of his followers, is waiting extradition to Cairo, writes Adel Darwish.

Magdi el-Safty, leader of the Islamic group 'Flight from Hell Warriors', who is wanted in Egypt on three attempted murder charges, was arrested during a routine traffic check in the Qatari capital on Sunday.