N.Y. gem center blast reportedly part of plot Jewish businesses called the target

June 30, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- Plotters who planned to blow up the United Nations and other prominent targets also discussed exploding a powerful bomb in midtown Manhattan's crowded diamond district to inflict heavy casualties on Jewish businessmen, federal prosecutors have charged.

Government lawyers said the scheme was revealed when some of the alleged terrorists were secretly tape recorded in a car as they scouted potential targets.

"One of the co-conspirators says, 'This is the heart of Israel here in Manhattan," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lev L. Dassin told a U.S. magistrate yesterday. "One of the co-conspirators says, 'Boom! Broken windows! Jews in the streets!' "

Mr. Dassin quoted from the tape at a bail hearing for Amir Abdelghani, a 33-year-old Sudanese immigrant and cab driver. The prosecutor said the comments were made by one of Mr. Abdelghani's unnamed companions in the car. Magistrate James C. Francis ordered Mr. Abdelghani held without bail.

The diamond district, a single block crowded with retail shops and merchants between Fifth and Sixth avenues, is the center of America's $5.6 billion trade in gems, where 95 percent of stones entering the country are sold, cut or polished.

Mr. Abdelghani's lawyer, Lawrence Vogelman, challenged the government's claims, arguing that his client was entrapped by an informant paid to "create a conspiracy."

That assertion was echoed yesterday from the jail cell of Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, another accused terrorist, who has written a lengthy statement accusing FBI informant Emad Ali Salem of "suggesting everything, buying everything, doing everything," according to his lawyer William Kunstler.

Because of the informant's close association with Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, Mr. Kunstler said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Salem had "enormous prestige" among the "very suggestible young" Arab men. Mr. Kunstler said his client and his colleagues "thought Mr. Salem was speaking for the sheik."

"This wasn't entrapment -- it was worse. It was criminal," Mr. Kunstler charged.

The controversial Muslim cleric and opponent of Egypt's present government is spiritual leader to several suspects arrested both in the alleged plot to commit the latest series of bombings as well to many of those seized for bombing the World Trade Center Feb. 26.

Mr. Dassin charged the most recent wave of attacks -- whose targets included at least one Hudson River tunnel and the Federal Building containing the offices of the FBI -- was planned to occur before the end of June, when a lease expired on the building the terrorists used as a bomb-making factory.

The prosecutor said media reports that the bombings were scheduled for the Fourth of July were incorrect.

Federal agents say they still are seeking several suspects in the latest bomb plot.

On West 47th Street in the heart of the diamond district, there were no visible signs of increased security yesterday.

The street was clogged with trucks and vans making deliveries as crowds of gem merchants, strollers and shoppers filled the sidewalk.

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