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World Trade Center Bombing: 1993-94 & 1997

Philippine Airline Plot

In the ensuing years, other figures in the wider conspiracy alleged by the government were brought to trial. Sheik Rahman was convicted on October 1, 1995, on conspiracy counts brought under the sedition charge and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. During the sheik's trial, Ramzi Yousef was arrested in Pakistan and extradited to the United States. The indictment against him was so complicated that Judge Duffy divided the charges against Yousef into two separate court cases.

Before Yousef could face trial in the World Trade Center case, however, he stood accused of a potentially bloodier terrorist plan. Prosecutors charged that Yousef, Pakistani pilot Abdul Hakim Murad, and Wali Khan Amin Shah had conspired to detonate bombs aboard a dozen commercial airliners during a 48-hour period in January 1995. By killing an estimated 4,000 passengers en route from the Philippines to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York, the bombers hoped to force the United States to end aid to Israel. Shah was accused of testing a timer by leaving a bomb in a Manila theater on December 1, 1994. Yousef was charged with hiding a bomb on a Philippine Airlines flight to Tokyo on December 11 in a similar test; the bomb killed a Japanese passenger and injured 10 others.

Philippine police discovered the airline plot on January 6, 1995, when chemicals Yousef and Murad were mixing started a fire in a Manila apartment. Yousef fled to Pakistan, but Murad was arrested when he returned, allegedly to dispose of nitroglycerine, timers, bomb-making equipment, and manuals, as well as a computer containing details of the plot.

The three defendants pleaded not guilty when the trial began on May 13, 1996. They claimed they were beaten while in custody and that they had not been properly informed of their rights when they gave statements to FBI agents while being transported to the United States to face trial. The incriminating statements included a detailed account by Yousef of how the World Trade Center bomb was made and delivered. The FBI agents also claimed that Yousef had boasted of plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton.

Judge Duffy, also presiding in the Philippine Airlines plot, ruled that these disputed statements were admissible at the trial and rejected a defense motion that the United States did not have jurisdiction in the airline case. Although the plot was to have been executed from the Philippines, Duffy pointed out that U.S. law allowed prosecuting any crime taking place aboard an international aircraft.

In addition to Yousef's admissions and voluminous bomb-related evidence linked to the trio, the most damaging exhibit was the laptop computer found in the Manila apartment. Under the file name "Bojinga," the computer's contents included the targeted jets' flight schedules, money transfers, identification photographs, and a threatening letter explaining that the attack was a response to U.S. financial, political, and military assistance to Israel.

Over the objections of his codefendants' attorneys and warnings from Judge Duffy, Yousef dismissed his court-appointed lawyer, Roy Kulcsar (who would represent Yousef later in the World Trade Center bombing trial). Yousef argued that he had been detained and tortured by Pakistani security forces in November 1994 when he was allegedly organizing the airline plot in Manila, but was contradicted by prosecution records showing that he was not arrested in Pakistan until February 1995.

With little apparent success in forwarding his defense, Yousef crossexamined an airline attendant who identified him as sitting in the seat later taken by the airline bomb victim. He declared that the evidence against him had been fabricated by the Philippine and Pakistani governments. Shah's and Murad's lawyers repeated this charge, pointing to testimony in which Manila investigators admitted filing false reports to justify searching the fire-damaged apartment where the evidence was discovered. Because the search had taken place in the Philippines and was not subject to U.S. rules of evidence, however, the discovery was ruled legitimate.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994World Trade Center Bombing: 1993-94 1997 - Van Deposit Leads To Arrests, Far-reaching Conspiracy Alleged, Defendants Tied To Van, Bomb Manuals