January 17, 1996
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EST
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Amid tight security Wednesday, a federal judge handed down stiff sentences to blind Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and his nine co-conspirators who were convicted of hatching a plot to bomb the United Nations, FBI offices, and other New York landmarks.
Judge Michael Mukasey of Manhattan's U.S. District Court sentenced Abdel-Rahman, the militant spiritual leader believed to have masterminded the conspiracy, to life in prison without parole.
Before he was sentenced, the 57-year-old Abdel-Rahman delivered a long, ardent speech in Arabic. "This case is nothing but an extension of the American war against Islam," he told the judge through an interpreter.
Ahmed Sattar, an aide to the sheik, told CNN that he had spoken to Abdel-Rahman Tuesday night and the cleric told him that "he had a clear conscience" and was "at peace."
Of the cleric's disciples, the judge was most punishing on El Sayyid Nosair, condemning him to life in prison for his role in the bomb plot and for killing militant anti-Arab Rabbi Meir Kahane in a New York hotel in 1990.
Nosair's cousin Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, 45, received 57 years for the conspiracy and other charges, including possession of bogus passports and visas intended to get Nosair out of the country following a jailbreak.
Seven other defendants received sentences between 25 and 35 years each for planning what prosecutors called a "war of urban terrorism" aimed at changing U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"You agreed to participate in a conspiracy to commit a monstrous crime," Judge Mukasey told one defendant.
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 disturbances were 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 -- all in one day.
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 reducing 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, and denied any part in the conspiracy.
But the judge remained unmoved. "Forgive me if it sounds cold-hearted," Mukasey said, "but people who are killed by people with limited capacity are just as dead as people killed by geniuses."
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.
"Because of the bombing of the World Trade Center, the government made up this case," insisted Nosair, who had been acquitted of the rabbi's murder in state court before being charged with the assassination as part of the conspiracy.
"I am not a terrorist. I condemn terrorism in the 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."
During the nine-month trial, defense attorney Lynne Stewart argued that the sheik was a spiritual leader being prosecuted for his speech.
AP contributed to this report.
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