January 17, 1996
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EST (2200 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Amid tight security Wednesday, a federal judge began handing down stiff sentences to a blind Egyptian cleric and his nine co-conspirators who were convicted of masterminding a terrorist plot to bomb the United Nations, FBI offices and other New York landmarks.
Seven of cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman's followers received sentences between 25 and 35 years each. Judge Michael Mukasey of Manhattan's US District Court flatly told one defendant: "You agreed to participate in a conspiracy to commit a monstrous crime."
The 57-year-old Abdel-Rahman is due to be sentenced last, at the end of the day Wednesday. He will speak for up to one hour through a translator before the judge hands down his sentence.
Ahmed Sattar, an aide to the sheik, told CNN that he had spoken to the sheik in his prison cell last night and the blind Egyptian cleric told him that "he had a clear conscience" and was "at peace."
A dozen New York City police officers -- twice the usual complement -- patrolled outside the courthouse, along with two bomb-sniffing dogs who scoured the courthouse with federal agents Wednesday morning. No unusual activity was reported.
Abdel-Rahman and nine others were convicted October 1 of seditious conspiracy for their role in a plot to bomb the United Nations, FBI headquarters in Manhattan, two tunnels in New York and a bridge connecting New Jersey with Manhattan.
The government said the group also was responsible for the February 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and injured more than 1,000.
The sheik also was convicted in a plot to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The government said the defendants wanted to use urban terrorism to pressure the United States into shrinking support for Middle East nations that opposed the sheik's radical brand of Islam.
Defendants Clement Hampton-El, 57, Victor Alvarez, 29, Tarig Elhassan, 40, and Mohammed Saleh, 39, each were sentenced to 35 years in prison for their role in the plots.
Alvarez was portrayed during the nine-month trial as a borderline mentally handicapped man from a broken family, but the judge remained unmoved.
Fadil Abdelgani, 33, was sentenced to 25 years in prison; his cousin, Amir Abdelgani, 35, received 30 years; and Fares Khallafalla, 33, received 30 years. Fadil Abdelgani was captured on videotape mixing chemicals for a potential bomb.
All the defendants, speaking before their individual sentencings, maintained that they were innocent.
"I am not a crazy man," Alvarez said. "I never knew of any plot to bomb anything in the United States. This is my country."
"I am not a terrorist. I condemn terrorism in world." Saleh said. "I ask God Almighty that one day... the truth will come out." Saleh was accused of agreeing to provide fuel oil for the bomb conspiracy.
Brooklyn native Clement Hampton-El addressed the prosecutors in court, "You'll be next," he said to them. "You knew when you brought me here that I was innocent. The day will come for you."
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