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Plane terror suspects convicted on all counts

terror plot September 5, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The three defendants stood impassively as a federal jury foreman in New York announced guilty verdicts to each charge of an elaborate plot to destroy 12 U.S. airliners in Asia last year.

The jury found Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the scheme, and two other defendants, Abdul Hakim Murad and Wali Khan Amin Shah, guilty on all counts after two-and-a- half days of deliberations.

The verdict represents a high profile victory for the Justice Department and comes at a time of heightened concern about terrorism.

Yousef, 29, also is the alleged mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and still faces trial in that case.

trade center

Yousef, who holds an Iraqi passport, also has been linked to schemes to assassinate President Clinton and Pope John Paul II during the pontiff's visit to Manila.

Also convicted Thursday was Murad, 28, and Shah, believed to be about 30. Each man was charged with seven counts of conspiring and attempting to bomb the 12 planes in 1995. The bombings could have killed 4,000 people aboard the planes.

"The horror of it is impossible to comprehend," said U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.

The defendants all face mandatory life sentences and are scheduled for sentencing December 5, 1996. During the trial, prosecutors called 47 witnesses over a 12-week period.

all three

The defense called five witnesses, including a police officer from the Philippines who admitted that he had mixed up evidence he had examined.

"Each and every one of you got an extraordinarily fair trial," U.S. judge Kevin Duffy told them.

The attorney for Shah maintained the evidence against his client was flimsy and said he saw several grounds for appeal.

evidence

Fire led to arrests

Officials uncovered the airline plot in January 6, 1995, when a fire broke out in a Manila apartment where, they said, Yousef and Murad were mixing chemicals.

Yousef fled the apartment, according to witnesses, after the fire and eventually fled the country.

Police arrested Murad as he allegedly came back to the apartment to clear out incriminating evidence, including nitroglycerin, bomb-making equipment and computer disks containing information on airline flights.

Yousef, who had been sought for 23 months prior to the fire, was captured in Islamabad, Pakistan, the month after he fled the Philippines.

A Secret Service agent testified during the trial that Yousef boasted during his extradition flight to New York that he would have blown up several jumbo jets within a few weeks if his plan had not been discovered.

Sketch

The government said the defendants even devised a name for their airline terror plot: "Project Bojinka."

During the summer-long trial, which began in May, Yousef represented himself. Speaking clearly and calmly in his closing argument, he accused police in the Philippines and Pakistan of planting evidence against him.

Yousef's self defense put him face-to-face with witnesses such as a flight attendant who said she saw him sitting in the Philippines Airlines seat where a bomb went off on a later flight.

Evidence against Murad was no less compelling. Interrogation tapes played in court depicted Murad elaborating on the technical specifics of bomb making. He was also recorded talking about how much he enjoys killing Americans.

Timers tested?

Prosecutors said there was little doubt that Yousef orchestrated the "Bojinka" plot, trained his two co-defendants and tested a watch timer.

In what prosecutors said was a test run, Yousef was charged with placing a bomb on a Philippine Air Lines 747 flight to Tokyo. It exploded, killing a Japanese passenger.

Defendant Shah is accused of testing a different timer by leaving a bomb in a Manila theater.

Shah's attorney dismissed the evidence, saying his client lost three fingers from his left hand fighting in Afghanistan and was hardly a canidate to plan an airline bombing.

CNN Correspondent Brian Jenkins in New York and Reuters contributed to this report.

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