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Sheik 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

Defendants: Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, El Sayyid Nosair, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, Victor Alvarez, Amir Abdelgani, Fadil Abdelghani, Tarig Elhassan, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Rodney Hampton-El, Fares Khallafalla, and Mohammed Saleh
Crimes Charged: All defendants: Seditious conspiracy; Nosair: Murder and assault; individual charges included solicitation and conspiracy to commit assassination or bombings, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and weapons charges
Chief Defense Lawyers: Lynne F. Stewart, John Jacobs, Ramsey Clark, and Anthony Ricco
Chief Prosecutor: Mary Jo White
Judge: Michael B. Mukasey
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: January 30, 1995-January 17, 1996
Verdicts: Abdel Rahman: Guilty of conspiracy and solicitation to commit sedition, assassination, and attacks on U.S. military installations; Nosair: Guilty of conspiracy, assault, and murder; Not guilty on 2 counts of bombing conspiracy; El-Gabrowny: Guilty of assault and plotting to aid Nosair; Not guilty on 2 counts of bombing conspiracy; remaining defendants: Guilty of participating in the bombing conspiracy
Sentences: Abdel Rahman and Nosair: Life imprisonment; El-Gabrowny: 57 years imprisonment; Alvarez, Elhassan, and Hampton-El: 35 years imprisonment each; Abdelgani and Khallafalla: 30 years imprisonment each; Abdelghani: 25 years imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The rarely used antisedition statute was used successfully to prosecute and convict foreign terrorists.

Before a terrorist bomb exploded in the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993, few Americans had ever heard of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind cleric who preached militant Islamic doctrine from a Jersey City storefront mosque. He might have been an obscure figure in his New Jersey exile, but the sheik was well known to Islamic fundamentalists and security police in his native Egypt. Abdel Rahman had been acquitted of aiding the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He later fled prosecution on charges of fomenting a riot and came to the United States in 1990, despite the fact that his name was on a computerized list of suspected terrorists barred from entering the country.

As arrests followed the World Trade Center bombing, it was discovered that all but one of the suspects were followers of the cleric. Sheik Abdel Rahman's virulent anti-American sermons attracted a public scrutiny that was lacking before the explosion in New York. He was constantly surrounded by FBI agents and news hungry reporters. Although it was speculated that Abdel Rahman might be arrested for complicity in the bombing, Attorney General Janet Reno announced that too little evidence existed for an immediate indictment.

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