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Defense: Juror `bias' in terror verdicts

Sheik, others convicted in New York

From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

October 1, 1995
Web posted at: 6:43 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Defense attorneys said "preconceived bias" by jurors led to Sunday's terror conspiracy conviction of Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine others.

One of the defendants, El Sayyid Nosair, also was found guilty of the 1991 killing of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Nosair and Abdel-Rahman both face the possibility of life in prison.

The convictions by a federal jury involve a plot to blow up the United Nations, kill Egypt's president and bomb vital highway tunnels and FBI offices in New York. The verdicts followed 37 hours of deliberations stretching over seven days.

Prosecutors charged that Abdel-Rahman and his co-defendants plotted a war of terrorism against the United States to force a change in Washington's Mideast policy.

The sheik's attorney, Lynne Stewart, said he told her not to cry after the verdict was announced. "He said, `I'm not the first person to go to jail for his beliefs, I won't be the last. There are always pitfalls when you choose this road and this is one of them,'" she said.

The jury found the sheik guilty of trying to arrange the assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and of suggesting that the U.S. Army be targeted for bombings. The formal charges against Abdel-Rahman were seditious conspiracy, solicitation to murder, conspiracy to murder, solicitation to attack a U.S. military installation and bombing conspiracy.

During the trial, excerpts were introduced from speeches in which the sheik said, "We must terrorize the enemies of Islam and ... shake the earth under their feet."

Stewart maintains the Sheik is innocent, and claims the jury had a "preconceived bias".

"The jury went in there with a preconceived bias and felt it was safer just to lock up the terrorists and not worry about what the evidence was and it is for that reason that Sheik Omar is facing the rest of his life in prison." (205K AIFF sound or 205K WAV sound)

Valerie Amsterdam, defense attorney for Fadil Khallafalla, said the swiftness of the verdict made her suspect it was predestined from the moment the jury was picked. (208K AIFF sound or 208K WAV sound)

The jury was kept anonymous and under high security, a tactic Amsterdam suggested was a prosecution tactic to frighten them.

John Jacobs, lawyer for defendant Mohammed Saleh, also credited the "fear factor" with motivating the jury to convict. "There was no way they would let any of these defendants would go home again," Jacobs said.

Saleh is a Palestinian who owned the gas station the government said provided diesel fuel for bombs. "I think my client was set up by the FBI," Jacobs said. "They bought their conviction with a million dollars they gave the informant. They bought it with the misconduct of the agents."

Sentencing for the 10 defendants is set for mid-January. Each defense lawyer has vowed to appeal the convictions.

<P>The alleged bomb plot was captured on an FBI surveillance 
tape in 1993.  It shows a New York City garage rented by Emad 
Salem, an FBI informant who had been an officer in the 
Egyptian army.  <A HREF=(1.5M QuickTime movie) The originator of the plot, prosecutors contended, was Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, who entered a guilty plea early in the trial and agreed to cooperate with the government. Siddig Ali brought in six men to mix fuel and fertilizer to make bombs, but those men said they thought they were training to fight with fellow Muslims in Bosnia.

World Trade Center

The lawyer for Nosair claimed his client was an innocent bystander in Kahane's murder. Nosair was acquitted of murder in an earlier, state trial, where he was convicted of related weapons charges. Prosecutors were able to retry Nosair for the murder because the federal indictment includes the killing as part of the alleged terrorist conspiracy.

The government also claimed the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people, was part of the ongoing conspiracy but prosecutors offered no clear evidence that any of the 10 defendants in this trial played a part in that bombing.

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