Bomb suspects planned to use diplomatic plates Sudanese officials deny involvement

June 26, 1993|By William C. Rempel and Ronald J. Ostrow | William C. Rempel and Ronald J. Ostrow,Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- Suspected terrorists accused of plotting an unprecedented wave of attacks in Manhattan intended to use special diplomatic license plates to drive a car bomb into the basement parking garage of the United Nations, government sources said yesterday.

The information emerged as federal agents examined whether Sudanese diplomats provided support to some of the eight alleged co-conspirators arrested in the abortive scheme a day earlier. Sudanese officials vehemently denied any involvement.

At the same time, investigators were sifting through documents seized from the apartment of Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who entered the United States in 1991 with a visa obtained in Sudan. Several accused terrorists in the February bombing of New York's World Trade Center and in the latest plot are followers of the controversial sheik, whom the federal government is seeking to deport.

According to a government source, Attorney General Janet Reno has been under pressure from "some in law enforcement" to authorize the immediate arrest of Sheik Abdel-Rahman, who has not been charged in either investigation. Those favoring the move argue that sufficient legal grounds exist to seize the sheik and that such a move would "send a signal" of further aggressive action against terrorism.

However, the source said, Ms. Reno had determined that "so far, he should not be arrested" for what the source described as "sound law enforcement reasons." The source said there was general agreement with her decision within the Justice Department.

According to court papers, Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, a 32-year-old former security guard and the alleged ringleader of the plot, told an FBI informant that "he has connections that will allow him to drive a car carrying a bomb into a parking lot in the United Nations building."

The prospect of personnel with diplomatic immunity in a U.N. mission possibly aiding and abetting destruction of the international organization's 38-story glass and steel headquarters stunned people who work in the landmark structure.

Chief U.N. spokesman Joe Sills refused all comment on the alleged plot, whose targets included Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York and Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an outspoken advocate of hard-line Israeli policies toward Arabs. U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was also a target, according to one report.

Sudanese officials denied vehemently any involvement in the plot to blow up not only the U.N. headquarters, but the Lincoln and Holland tunnels into Manhattan and the towering federal building where the local FBI investigation is being directed.

"None of our diplomats has anything to do with this, and none was interrogated by the FBI," Sudan's U.N. Mission said in a statement. The mission said it "rejects categorically any connection with this obnoxious terrorist conspiracy."

The mission has six diplomats, five drivers and some office staff. Although the Sudanese would be immune from prosecution in the United States, Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Ahmed Suliman, said that he would expel anyone involved in the plot to stand trial in Sudan. Mr. Suliman said he had questioned his staff and found that none were involved. But he said he would welcome any evidence from the FBI.

Five of the eight suspects were arrested when police and federal agents raided what they described as a bomb-making factory in a Queens garage. When they rolled up the graffiti-covered door, prosecutors said, the agents found the men mixing explosive materials in 55-gallon yellow drums.

Forensic experts said the explosives were of the same composition as those used in the Feb. 26 blast that crippled the trade center, killing six and injuring more than 1,000. Investigators have linked at least two of the most recent suspects to the trade center explosion.

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