CNN logo

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Main banner

Motive sought in New York subway bomb plot


Suspects arraigned at hospital

In this story: August 2, 1997
Web posted at: 10:18 p.m. EDT (0218 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- As heavily armed agents stood guard, a federal judge presided over the arraignment of two suspects charged with conspiracy to blow up a New York subway station and possession of explosives. Other investigators were seeking a reason behind the alleged plot.

Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, 23, and Lafi Khalil, 22, both from Israel's West Bank, were charged late Friday as they lay in their hospital beds recovering from gunshot wounds suffered during a shootout with police at their Brooklyn apartment . The men were arrested after police seized nail-studded devices resembling pipe bombs from the residence.

A third suspect was being held on charges of being in the United States illegally, officials said.

Federal officials said Saturday that Abu Mezer was released from U.S. detention in Washington state in February, two months before he filed an asylum claim acknowledging that Israel alleged he was a terrorist.

Investigators sift through papers

Three days after thwarting the alleged plot, investigators sifted through evidence trying to determine a motive.

An investigator in New York said authorities were translating piles of Arabic material pulled from the apartment and reviewing records from nearby pay phones. Sources said the suspects may have called the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas from stores in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

The New York Times said officials found a draft of a manifesto written by Abu Mezer that could be interpreted as a suicide note. In it, he spouted hatred for Jews and Americans, denounced persecution of Arabs and said good-bye to his family, according to other media reports.

The Times also reported that a portrait of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the Egyptian cleric convicted of encouraging plots to bomb New York City, was found in the apartment.

"We don't know if these guys were lone wolves or were connected and supported by a terrorist organization," a source said.

A day before the arrests in New York, 15 people were killed and 150 wounded in a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem market that authorities said may be the work of Hamas.

Hamas blames Israel

Hamas denied any involvement with the New York plot. Instead, the group claimed that one of the two Palestinians suspected in the alleged plot was collaborating with Israel's intelligence agency.

"It is apparent that one of the people involved in this case, the youth Lafi Khalil, is an agent who is connected with the Israeli intelligence agency Shabak," said a Hamas statement released Saturday.

"Hamas' only target is the occupation in its land and does not agress (sic) upon the American people or any other people," Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official, added.

James Kallstrom, head of the New York FBI office, said it "is totally wrong to say that these individuals are connected to and directed by Hamas."

Suspect had been arrested in Israel

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Mehler, Abu Mezer was caught trying to sneak into Washington state from Canada twice in June 1996. He was arrested after a third attempt in January, but Canada refused to take him back. Canada was not required to accept him, because he isn't a Canadian citizen.

Abu Mezer then sought political asylum in the United States, reportedly because he feared prosecution by officials in Israel. He had been arrested there for throwing rocks during the 1990 Palestinian uprising and reportedly learned how to make bombs during a jail term.

That outraged New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "It is appropriate to question why this person was allowed into the country announcing he was part of a terrorist group in Israel," he said.

Bail was reduced to $5,000

Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Florman gave this account of Abu Mezer's case:

He entered the country illegally on January 14 in Washington state and was caught by the Border Patrol soon afterwards in Bellingham, Washington He was put in detention and officials began an effort to deport him. His bail was set at $15,000, but he could not make it and remained in custody.

Abu Mezer agreed to leave voluntarily for Canada, but Canada refused to take him back.

At a hearing on February 6 before U.S. Immigration Judge Anna Ho in Seattle, his bail was reduced to $5,000. He posted it and was released while the government continued to press its legal case for deportation.

On April 7, his attorney, Kaaren L. Barr of Boise, Idaho, filed an asylum application on his behalf. A hearing on the asylum claim was set for June 23, but on June 12 Abu Mezer withdrew the request for asylum, and his attorney advised the court that he had agreed to leave the country voluntarily.

At the hearing before Immigration Judge Kendall Warren in Seattle, Abu Mezer was given until August 23 to leave voluntarily. Instead, he moved to Brooklyn.

CNN Plus

Related stories:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Search for related CNN stories:
Tip: You can restrict your search to the title of a document. Infoseek grfk

Example: title:New Year's Resolutions

Message Boards

Sound off on our message boards

Tell us what you think!

You said it...
To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.