N.Y. Bomb Plotters Sentenced to Long Terms

By Malcolm Gladwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 1996

NEW YORK, JAN. 17 -- Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and nine others convicted with him last fall of plotting to bomb bridges, tunnels and buildings in Manhattan and kidnap key political figures were sentenced today in federal court here to terms ranging from 25 years to life in prison.

The sentences in one of the most ambitious terrorist plots in U.S. history were handed out one by one by U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey, beginning in the morning with the most marginal members of what prosecutors described as a Muslim terrorist cell and ending, dramatically, in late afternoon with Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric who was the group's ringleader.

Before he was sentenced, the 57-year-old sheik, wearing his trademark white and red hat, delivered an angry, rambling 90-minute address that touched on the memoirs of former president Richard M. Nixon, birth control, homosexuality, former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the CIA, the American habit of calling news conferences, his green card and AIDS.

"This is an infidel country," the cleric declared, through a translator, in a speech that ended only after the repeated interventions of the judge. "It has an infidel White House. It has an infidel Congress. It has an infidel Pentagon. And this is an infidel courthouse."

Abdel Rahman was given a sentence of life without parole plus 65 years. If he had not been foiled, Mukasey told the cleric, his acts would have caused "devastation on a scale not seen in this country since the Civil War."

Today's sentencing brings to an end a saga that began in the late 1980s, when U.S. authorities in Jersey City and New York began surveillance on a group of Muslims, many of whom were recent immigrants from the Middle East affiliated with Abdel Rahman. In June 1993, four months after the World Trade Center bombing, FBI agents arrested five men as they were concocting a brew of chemicals in a Queens garage. From there, more arrests were made until the FBI claimed that it had uncovered a massive terrorist conspiracy aimed at intimidating the United States into changing its Middle East policies.

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