2 men guilty in N.Y. blast 'Mastermind,' driver convicted of bombing World Trade Center

Life sentences possible

Law enforcement officials say more leads will be followed

November 13, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Concluding what is likely to be the final major trial in the calamitous explosion at the World Trade Center in 1993, a federal jury in Manhattan convicted Ramzi Ahmed Yousef yesterday of directing and helping to carry out the deadly bombing designed to punish the United States for its support of Israel.

After deliberating for three days, the jury also convicted Eyad Ismoil, whom prosecutors had accused of driving the yellow Ryder van that carried the bomb into the trade center's $l underground garage.

Both men fled the country on the night of the bombing, which at the time was the deadliest act of terrorism committed on U.S. soil.

The bombing caused six deaths, hundreds of injuries and millions of dollars in property damage, and it forever changed the way many New Yorkers and other Americans viewed their security.

In contrast to the bedlam that erupted in the courtroom after four lower-level conspirators were convicted in the first trade center trial in 1994, Yousef and Ismoil stared ahead silently as the jury foreman announced the guilty verdicts.

Each could be sentenced to life in prison.

Afterward, federal and city officials stood on the steps of the federal courthouse, proudly declaring that the verdict affirmed that terrorism would not be tolerated, but cautioning that there were still strands in the case that would be followed, including a search for a fugitive who prosecutors have said mixed the chemicals for the bomb in a warehouse in Jersey City, N.J.

"We will continue to pursue all people, with any roles, including financing roles," said Mary Jo White, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted the previous trade center trials and a case last year in which Yousef was convicted in a conspiracy to blow up American airliners.

She said that while Yousef has been "popularly referred to as the mastermind" of the bomb plot, she preferred to think of him as "a mastermind."

James Kallstrom, assistant director of the FBI in charge of the New York office, praised the verdict, saying it sent "the same message that we've said before: You can run but you can't hide, and we're going to put the resources in to get you."

Judge Kevin T. Duffy said he would sentence Yousef, who is believed to be 29, on Jan. 8 for his conviction in the trade center case and last year's convictions for the airliner bombing conspiracy. Ismoil, 26, will be sentenced Feb. 12.

Both men, under federal sentencing guidelines, face probable terms of life in prison on five of the charges for which they were convicted yesterday, White said.

Building on evidence used in the previous terrorism trials, prosecutors were able to augment their case against Yousef with crucial new testimony. U.S. Secret Service agent Brian G. Parr told jurors that Yousef gave a detailed account of his role in the bomb plot, even bragging about it, while being flown back to the United States after his arrest in Pakistan in 1995.

In what was perhaps the most chilling day of testimony in the three-month trial, Parr told the jury that Yousef said he had hoped the explosion would topple one tower into the other, killing tens of thousands of people, to let Americans know they were "at war."

Yousef also said he had driven to a perch on the Jersey City waterfront, watching as the smoke billowed from the trade center towers, according to the testimony from the agent, Parr.

"He told me that it was in retaliation for U.S. aid to Israel," Parr told the jury of his conversation with Yousef. "I asked him why he had not selected an Israeli target, and he said that Israeli targets were too difficult to attack, and he said that if you could not attack your enemy, you should attack the friend of your enemy."

Although Yousef's lawyer, Roy R. Kulcsar, accused Parr of lying and suggested the government had fabricated the purported confession, the statement proved to be devastating to Yousef's defense.

White called Yousef's account "a brazen, bold statement of terrorism."

"It was also a vital piece of evidence in this trial," she added.

Kulcsar said Yousef had no reaction to the verdict and that he would appeal the case.

Ismoil's lawyer, Louis R. Aidala, said he also planned an appeal. Aidala said that he told his client, "It's not all over."

After his arrest in Jordan in 1995, Ismoil gave a statement in which he admitted driving the van that carried the bomb into the garage but said he thought he was delivering cartons of shampoo.

The prosecutors mercilessly ridiculed that contention and described the 26-year-old former New York city livery taxicab driver as a trusted friend of Yousef, who asked him to drive the van precisely because of his driving skills and knowledge of the city's streets.

Edward J. Smith, whose pregnant wife, Monica, was killed in the blast along with three co-workers as they sat in a Port Authority lunch room, said by phone that he feels a sense of great relief at the convictions, "especially the one guy, Ramzi."

Smith, who has since moved to Los Angeles, said he would return to New York for Yousef's sentencing because it would JTC help to close the case for him and "to let them know that there are people who care."

Neither of the defendants testified during the trial, and among the questions that remain unanswered, even with Yousef's statement, were the issue of who financed the bomb plot and whether Yousef was taking orders from someone else.

During the trial, for example, prosecutors referred to phone calls by Yousef to "contacts" in Iraq and Pakistan, but did not identify who they might be.

There was testimony about the cost of the chemicals and supplies that went into the bombing, which amounted to less than $15,000, but it is unclear where that money and other funds originated.

The trial was held in a special courtroom under heavy security. The jurors were kept anonymous by Duffy, and they declined to be interviewed after the trial.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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