Prosecutors may use sermon in N.Y. blast trial Arabic remarks attributed to cleric

September 13, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- When investigators searched the home of Rabbi Meir Kahane's accused killer in 1990, they seized evidence that included an Arabic sermon urging the destruction of symbolic Western "edifices."

For more than two years, the sermon attributed to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman lay in evidence boxes, untranslated by the police and FBI agents who probed the Kahane slaying for any evidence of a broader plot.

Although Sheik Abdel-Rahman and 14 co-defendants charged in just such a conspiracy won't stand trial until next year, the shadow of the fiery Islamic cleric and his alleged conspirators will loom over the World Trade Center bombing trial set to open this week.

"The evidence is clear that the sheik was the linchpin for the indictments in both cases -- even though he's only charged in one," said a law-enforcement source familiar with the unprecedented investigation set in motion by the Feb. 26 trade center blast.

Already, defense attorneys say, the conspiracy charges filed last month against Sheik Abdel-Rahman and El Sayyid Nosair threaten to undermine efforts to seat an impartial jury for the four men charged in the bombing.

Mr. Nosair was acquitted of Mr. Kahane's murder but convicted on weapons charges in the conspiracy case.

"The new [conspiracy] charges increased the level of prejudicial pre-trial publicity and made the process of getting unbiased and open-minded jurors much more difficult," said Atiq Ahmed, an attorney for Nidal Ayyad, one of the four suspects charged in the bombing.

"When you talk to people around New York, they don't even know there are two cases. They think it's all one big case," said Robert Ellis, the attorney for Bilall Alkaisi, a World Trade Center bombing suspect scheduled to be tried separately later.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment on either case.

But defense attorneys and law-enforcement sources predicted that elements of the broader conspiracy case may command a supporting role, if not star billing, in the bombing scenario expected to be reconstructed by the U.S. attorney's office.

For instance, evidence turned over to defense lawyers by prosecutors conspicuously omits any mention of a motive for the bombing. But the indictment in the conspiracy case -- which lists the bombing and the Kahane slaying as related overt acts in the alleged broader plot -- indirectly referred to the alleged Abdel-Rahman sermon.

The indictment said that Mr. Nosair possessed "documents advocating the destruction of symbolic statues, tall buildings and buildings of political significance."

"The government will almost certainly be able to introduce the sermon to the jury because Rahman essentially is an unindicted co-conspirator in the bombing trial and the sermon provides a motive," said one legal source familiar with the World Trade Center case.

In addition, at least three of the suspects in the bombing case worshiped at the Jersey City, N.J., mosque where Sheik Abdel-Rahman frequently preached. One, Mahmud Abouhalima, formerly served as a driver for Sheik Abdel-Rahman and helped organize a defense effort for Mr. Nosair.

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