N.Y. bombing suspect may be linked to radical Islamic group

March 05, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The arrest of a suspect yesterday in a world-riveting bombing brings home to the United States the impact of a growing fundamentalist religious movement that is sending tremors through the Islamic world's political order.

A radical Islamic group linked -- so far, indirectly -- to the World Trade Center bombing is believed to have been behind the October 1990 assassination of the speaker of the Egyptian Parliament and to have carried out other armed attacks against Egyptian security officials and Western tourists.

Egyptian authorities say the group, Al Gama'a al-Islamiya, draws support from Iran and Sudan. U.S. officials, however, say they haven't been able to confirm any external aid.

The suspect arrested in connection with the bombing, Mohammed Salameh of Jersey City, N.J., reportedly attends a Jersey City mosque where an Egyptian fundamentalist theologian, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, preaches.

Sheik Rahman, a spiritual leader to members of Al Gama'a al-Islamiya, was charged in Egypt with playing a role in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat but was acquitted.

He had issued a "fatwa," or condemnation, of Sadat, which was not deemed sufficient evidence to convict him.

A member of the same El Salam mosque in Jersey City, El Sayyid Nosair, was tried and acquitted in the 1991 assassination of radical Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane but was convicted on lesser charges.

Brian Jenkins, an expert on terrorism with Kroll and Associates, a security consulting firm, said it was unlikely, based on what is known about the World Trade Center bombing suspect, that he acted with state sponsorship, given the apparent amateurishness of the operation.

For a nation to bomb the World Trade Center would be tantamount to an act of war, he said.

"That a decision of that political consequence would be left to amateurs to carry out would be extraordinary," he said.

But the arrest of a suspect yesterday brings the United States "right back into Middle East terrorism," pushing the spread of radical Islam from North Africa to Southwest Asia to the forefront of public discussion, Mr. Jenkins said.

The fundamentalist movement has already threatened to derail the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace process as a result of Israel's deportation of 400 Palestinians linked to the radical group Hamas.

Mr. Jenkins said the New York bombing puts the U.S. "politically back where we were a decade ago."

Al Gama'a has conducted a campaign of terror in Egypt, where the moderate government of President Hosni Mubarak has launched periodic crackdowns against Islamic radicals.

The group was believed to be responsible for the assassination of Assembly Speaker Rifaat El Magoub in 1990.

According to the latest State Department report on terrorism, to be published this spring, Al Gama'a conducts armed attacks against Egyptian security forces and other officials, as well as against Coptic Christians, Western tourists and Egyptian opponents of Islamic extremism.

Egyptian officials have told U.S. authorities that tape recordings of Sheik Rahman's meetings with fellow fundamentalists are sent to Cairo, where they incite violence against the government.

Radical Islamic groups are increasingly evident throughout the Middle East, where they threaten the established political order and campaign against secular customs.

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