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Terrorism trial begins in New York

3 men accused of plotting to bomb U.S. planes

May 13, 1996
Web posted at: 11:35 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Jury selection began in New York Monday in the federal trial of three men accused of plotting to bomb 11 planes headed for the United States on a single day in 1995.

Ramzi Yousef is charged with masterminding the plot. He also will be tried later this year, accused of planning the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Four men are already serving life in prison for that crime.

The alleged plot was discovered in the Philippines in January 1995, when a fire broke out in a Manila apartment 200 yards from the Vatican's embassy, a week before the arrival of Pope John Paul II.

Police were shocked by what they found inside: a smoking mixture of explosives in a sink, street maps and garments like those worn by the Pope's entourage, suggesting a plot to kill the Pontiff.

They also say they found computer disks containing detailed plans to blow up U.S. airliners.

The alleged plot involved leaving bombs on flights that would take off from Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore.

Cannistraro

Vince Cannistraro, former director of the CIA's Counter terrorism Division calls it, "Extraordinarily ambitious, very complicated to bring off, and probably unparalleled by other terrorist operations that we know of."

Kenneth Timmerman, director of the Middle East Data Project, believes the sophistication of the plot is a sign the intelligence agency of another country is behind it.

Hussein

Some see the hand of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein; others the government of Iran.

Fingerprints on a bomb recipe notebook found in the burned apartment convinced the FBI that the brains behind "Project Bojinka" was Yousef, a young engineer born in either Iran or Pakistan, also accused in the World Trade Center bombing.

Authorities think Yousef flew out of New York just hours after that explosion, later launched a failed plot in Thailand to bomb an Israeli consulate, and wound up in the Philippines.

The FBI believes he staged a test for Project Bojinka in December 1994, leaving a bomb under a seat on a Philippine Airlines flight, killing a Japanese tourist.

According to Cannistraro, "His particular, peculiar evil genius was to devise a method of putting together a liquid explosive that could not be detected by the security apparatuses in effect at most airports at that time."

"This is somebody who is really a world class operator. . And I don't think we have seen someone like this, as accomplished as this, ever," said Timmerman.

Defendants

Yousef was finally caught in Pakistan, and the FBI brought him back to New York.

Philippine police captured his co-defendant, Abdul Hakim Murad when he tried to clean out the apartment in Manila. He was a childhood friend of Yousef in Kuwait.

A third defendant, Wali Khan Amin Shah, an Afghani, was arrested in Malaysia last December.

Lawyers for the three men say their trial might take three or four months.

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