Justice for Terrorists

March 06, 1994

The conviction on all charges of four terrorists after a five-month trial for the New York World Trade Center bombing is reassuring. It reflects painstaking good work by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, particularly a response team out of the Baltimore office, and good work by the FBI in following up on leads. Since both agencies were tarnished by the botched raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, both BATF and the FBI deserve credit for the World Trade Center case.

Some credit goes to the lack of professionalism of the terrorists in failing to cover their tracks. That whiff of amateurism is actually frightening, since it did not prevent them from planting a bomb in the World Trade Center, killing six, injuring more than 1,000, putting the twin towers out of commission with $550 million damage and bringing New York's financial district to a halt.

The best evidence of motive was a letter sent to a newspaper and found on the computer disc of one of those convicted, which said the bombing was a reprisal for U.S. aid to Israel.

The trial does not end the case. One defendant's trial remains to be held. Two men charged with building the bomb fled in time. This conviction clears the way for a more difficult conspiracy trial, in which 15 additional suspects are charged with plotting additional bombings in New York that were thwarted. The key figure is the blind Egyptian Muslim cleric accused of fomenting the conspiracy rhetorically, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. He was previously acquitted of fomenting terrorism in Egypt.

Still another defendant will be El Sayyid Nosair, who connects all defendants. He was previously acquitted of the murder in New York of Meir Kahane, but convicted on a related weapons charge.

It was an American-Israeli disciple of Mr. Kahane, Baruch Goldstein, who brought Middle East peace momentum to a halt with his slaughter of praying Palestinian Muslims at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. That atrocity was followed by the shooting of Jewish religious students in the Lubavitcher movement on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. A Lebanese national and two Jordanians are charged in that shooting.

One thing is clear: Future acts of terrorism are possible and must be prevented. Middle East violence has spilled ineradicably to U.S. soil. It would be wrong to call these people religious fundamentalists, which they may or may not be. There are many thousands of devout Islamic fundamentalists in this country who are solid citizens and horrified by violence, as there are Christian and Jewish fundamentalists. The people of violence are political extremists, which motivates their violence.

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