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Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman Trial: 1995-96

Bomb Factory Described In Testimony

Despite Siddig Ali's defection, the prosecution's case was still expected to be difficult to prove, for it relied heavily upon the testimony of an Egyptian-born U.S. government informant named Emad Salem, whose credibility and motives were fiercely challenged. Salem admitted on the witness stand that he had lied repeatedly to the FBI in order to impress the law enforcement agency of his usefulness. He also admitted demanding large amounts of money for working as an informer.

While under the FBI's employ, Salem had actively helped some of the conspirators, renting a Queens warehouse where he videotaped them mixing fuel oil and fertilizer into explosives. The FBI offered hours of recordings made by Salem in which the defendants implicated themselves in the bombing plot. Despite Salem's proximity to Abdel Rahman's inner circle, however, prosecutors offered as physical evidence only one taped conversation in which the sheik directly approved a terrorist action. Salem told Abdel Rahman that a wave of attacks was being planned and asked if the United Nations was a legitimate bombing target. Abdel Rahman replied that bombing the UN might be bad for Muslims because the institution was perceived to be a center for peace. He then told Salem to "find a plan" to inflict damage on the U.S. Army instead. Salem also spoke of bombing the FBI's New York headquarters, but the sheik told him not to proceed, adding that much preparation would be needed for such a target.

Prosecutors declared that the conversation was proof that Abdel Rahman was directing the plotters and approving targets. The defense responded that it was the informer Salem who was orchestrating the conversations, pointing out that the sheik instructed Salem not to carry out the attacks. The defense further argued that Abdel Rahman's suggestions of alternative targets were merely efforts to mollify the apparently excitable Salem, who had been presenting himself as a fervent religious disciple.

Salem's tapes and Siddig Ali's defection were not the only testimony presented against Abdel Rahman. Abdo Mohammed Haggag, a former aide to the sheik and one of the defendants, agreed to a plea bargain that resulted in conspiracy charges against him being dropped. Haggag stated that Abdel Rahman had approved a plot to assassinate President Mubarak, but that the plan was never carried out because the Egyptian president had canceled a trip to the United States. The defense, in response, accused Haggag of lying to obtain his freedom and to get revenge against the sheik, with whom he had had a falling out.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentSheik Omar Abdel Rahman Trial: 1995-96 - Sheik Arrested In Terrorist Plot, Bomb Factory Described In Testimony, Defense Claims Religious Persecution, Jury Convicts On 48 Charges