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Federal Prosecutor Concludes In Trade Center Bombing Case

By Robert L. Jackson
Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK

In closing arguments in the World Trade Center bombing case, a federal prosecutor told jurors yesterday that the conspiracy to bomb the twin towers began five months before the blast, when one of four defendants arrived in the United States carrying bomb-making manuals and anti-American and anti-Jewish literature.

Concluding the government's 18-week case, prosecutor Henry DePippo asked the jury to convict all the foreign-born defendants for what he called "the worst terrorist act" in the nation's history. The explosion killed six persons, injured more than 1,000 others and disabled for a month one of the world's best-known landmarks.

Defense attorneys were scheduled to make their presentations Tuesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Kevin T. Duffy. The jury is expected to begin its deliberations later this week.

DePippo told jurors that the government's presentation had been a lengthy one involving so many witnesses -- more than 200 -- "because no one witness could tell the whole story."

The government has attempted to convince the jury that the plot began when Ahmad Ajaj arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in September 1992, describing himself as "a Palestinian protester" and seeking political asylum.

Immigration authorities found he had used an altered Swedish passport and employed a string of false identities. In addition, the prosecutor said, authorities discovered among his possessions bombing manuals, videos and handwritten notes indicating that he had had weapons and explosives training.

While Ajaj was jailed for immigration violations, DePippo said, an associate, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, entered the country on the same flight and met days later in New Jersey with two other defendants, Mohammed A. Salameh and Mahmud Abouhalima.

Yousef, who has been declared a fugitive, left the country only hours after the bombing -- before authorities had linked him to the act.

DePippo said the government's evidence showed that Salameh, with whom Yousef shared an apartment, opened a joint bank account with the fourth defendant, Nidal Ayyad, a chemical engineer.

"Salameh and Ayyad opened an account with $8,500 before withdrawing most of it in cash," he said. "They then began making a slew of phone calls to chemical companies in order to buy chemicals."

In one instance, DePippo said, the men used 36 $100 bills to purchase ingredients for a 1,200-pound bomb -- the one Salameh and Abouhalima drove into the trade center's underground garage in a rented van.

Abouhalima, whom federal investigators labeled the "field general" of the plot, was linked to the conspiracy through dozens of telephone calls among the defendants, the prosecutor said.

However, federal authorities never were able to trace the source of the funds deposited by Salameh and Ayyad in a Jersey City bank.

Computer disks found in Ayyad's office identified him as the author of a letter sent to New York newspapers claiming that unless the United States stopped supporting Israel more terrorist bombings would occur.

If convicted of conspiracy in the bombing, the defendants could be sentenced to life imprisonment.