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Airline bomb plot trial begins

Yousef

3 defendants include World Trade Center bomb suspect

May 30, 1996
Web posted at: 1 a.m. EDT

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing went on trial Wednesday facing accusations of plotting even greater acts of death and destruction. U.S. prosecutors said Ramzi Yousef and two fellow defendants were involved in a plan to bomb 12 U.S. jets and kill 4,000 passengers in two days.

In opening statements, assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia told jurors that "the purpose of the plot was terror." "The terror was to come after plane after plane after plane exploded over the Pacific Ocean."

The government says thorough details of the plot were found in an apartment building in the Philippines that was used as a bomb laboratory.

David Greenfield, an attorney for one of the defendants, Wali Khan Amin Shah, told jurors the incriminating evidence against his client was manufactured by the people who captured him. "What you'll find is the Philippine law enforcement officials ... altered substantial portions of the evidence," he said.

Yousef wants to defend himself

Defend

Yousef, 29, announced to the judge that he wanted to represent himself during the case so he could deliver his own opening statement. U.S. Federal Judge Kevin Duffy said he would decide Thursday if Yousef could be his own lawyer.

But Clover Barrett, a lawyer for the third defendant, Abdul Hakim Murad, said Yousef's move could damage his client's case.

The trial is expected to last three or four months. The three defendants have pleaded not guilty. None of the seven men and five women serving on the jury is Muslim, but all said they would be fair in judging people of the Islamic faith.

Yousef is also charged with placing a bomb on a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to Tokyo on December 11, 1994, in what U.S. authorities believe was a test run for the 1995 airline plot. The bomb killed a Japanese passenger and injured 10 others.

Judge rejects defense motions

Yousef, who holds an Iraqi passport, was captured in Islamabad, Pakistan, on February 8, 1995, after a 23-month manhunt. He and the other defendants claim they were beaten and mistreated while in custody and contend the FBI did not properly inform them of their rights when they gave statements to FBI agents on plane flights back to the United States.

Judge

Judge Duffy ruled Wednesday that those statements were admissible at the trial. He also called Yousef's claim that he was kidnapped and tortured by Pakistani authorities for two months "incredible." Duffy rejected a defense motion that the United States did not have jurisdiction in the case.

Yousef allegedly gave U.S. federal agents a 56-page account of the World Trade Center bombing, including details on how the bomb was made. Six people were killed and more than 1,000 others were injured. Yousef and another man, Eyad Ismoil, are scheduled for trial in that case in September.

Plot foiled

Officials said they uncovered the airline plot on January 6, 1995, when a fire broke out in a Manila apartment where, they said, Yousef and Murad were mixing chemicals. Yousef fled the country after the fire and Murad was arrested when he returned to the apartment.

The federal indictment alleges that in the apartment police found nitroglycerine, bomb-making equipment, manuals containing bomb formulas, a computer with information on airline flights, timers for detonating bombs and a letter threatening to attack American targets.

Officials charged that Yousef has also been involved in other plots across Asia, including a scheme to assassinate Pope John Paul II during the pontiff's visit to Manila. They said he had also bragged of plots to kill President Clinton.

Yousef arrived in the United States from Pakistan on September 12, 1992, with Palestinian Ahmed Ajaj, who was carrying bomb-making manuals.

Yousef was allowed into the country after asking for political asylum. He later made his way to the Arab community in Jersey City, New Jersey where he met Mohammad Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima and Nidal Ayyad. Those three and Ajaj were later convicted and sentenced to 240 years in prison for the World Trade Center bombing.

CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman and Reuters contributed to this report.

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