N.Y. bombing had wide-ranging plot, Egypt says Iranians, Iraqis, Muslim extremists are cited

July 16, 1993|By Newsday

CAIRO, Egypt -- Egypt has handed over to U.S. authorities information pointing to an eclectic and international plot behind the bombing of the World Trade Center that allegedly includes Iranians, Iraqis and funding from the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Germany, a top aide to President Hosni Mubarak says.

The plot reportedly was conceived and planned by Islamic extremists operating from Peshawar, Pakistan, a city at the northwestern frontier with Afghanistan.

According to Egyptian intelligence information, two men who spoke Farsi, the Iranian language, turned up in New York months before the Feb. 26 Twin Towers bombing. They allegedly made contact with some of the suspects now charged in the explosion. Later, two Iraqi men showed up. All four men are believed to have fled the United States after the bombing.

Furthermore, according to the reported Egyptian scenario, funding for the bombers came from the Muslim Brotherhood in Germany. The brotherhood, a 70-year-old international organization banned in most Arab countries because of its goal of creating Islamic fundamentalist regimes, operates schools, clinics and cultural centers in many European capitals.

"The information we passed on represents . . . the best of our knowledge, so far as we are able to gather facts and materials," Osama al-Baz, the Egyptian leader's senior political adviser, said yesterday. "Some of the information could be defective or could be inadequate here or there."

He said the Egyptian intelligence came from several sources, but he did not give details. Mr. al-Baz spoke at an informal question-and-answer session with foreign journalists in Cairo.

In response to a question, he confirmed that the following scenario is "an accurate approximation" of the information given to U.S. law enforcement officials. The account pulls together many of the bits and pieces already known about the World Trade Center suspects and their connections.

Mahmud Abouhalima, an Egyptian cab driver who was arrested at his parents' home near Alexandria two weeks after the bombing, reportedly gave Egyptian security police details about the plot under torture. Mr. Abouhalima, who left New York just after the bombing, said that two Iraqi men were involved in the planning, Egyptian sources have told New York Newsday.

In addition, early reports disclosed that several thousand dollars had been transferred into bank accounts of two accused bombers from Germany before the explosion. Mr. Abouhalima lived in Germany for four years and had strong links to Muslim groups there.

Peshawar also has been suspected as where the plot was conceived. Two of the suspects in the bombing flew to New York in September 1992 from Peshawar with false passports, according to law enforcement sources.

One, Palestinian Ahmad Mohammad Ajaj, was arrested by immigration authorities at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was carrying bomb-making manuals. The second, a man believed to be an Iraqi named Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, arrived on the same plane, with an airline ticket containing a registration number consecutive to that of Ajaj, and disappeared after his arrival.

In the year since the Afghan civil war ended, Peshawar has become a headquarters for some Arab war veterans who fought on the side of Afghan rebels and have since turned their energies on overthrowing secular Arab governments like Egypt's.

Several Arab states facing Islamic militant insurgencies, including Algeria and Egypt, already have accused Iran of recruiting and backing these extremists from the Afghan war.

Speaking of the second alleged bombing plot against New York buildings and tunnels, Mr. al-Baz said Egypt was not aware of the role played by Emad Salem, the FBI informant, until just before arrests were made last month. Mr. Salem, a former Egyptian army officer, is not an Egyptian agent, he said.

He also said Egypt is "not pressing" its extradition request for Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric whose followers include some of the suspects in both the World Trade Center and tunnel bombing plots.

"We are waiting for the judiciary machinery in the United States," he said. "We expect the law to take its course."

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