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News Briefs, part 1

Bombing Suspect Makes Surprise Guilty Plea in Trade Center Trial

The Washington Post

The Muslim extremist who allegedly was the mastermind of what was to have been a "day of terror" in Manhattan in July 1993 Monday made a surprise guilty plea to a plot that included bombings of major New York landmarks and the assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali also said he would testify against the 11 other defendants in the massive conspiracy trial, including Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the cleric who was once his spiritual leader.

Siddig Ali, who cooperated for a time with federal prosecutors last year but was unable to arrange a plea bargain then, was named by prosecutors as the ringleader of a planned one-day bombing spree in Manhattan that targeted the United Nations, FBI offices and the three major links between Manhattan and New Jersey - the George Washington bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.

The defendants also were alleged to have been part of a broader conspiracy that included the bombing of the World Trade Center that killed six people in 1992. Four people were convicted of that bombing last year, three of them disciples of Abdel Rahman. None of the defendants in this trial was part of the World Trade Center trial.

Lawyers for the remaining defendants said Monday evening that they wrote U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey to demand a mistrial because of "judicial misconduct." The lawyers argued that Mukasey, who knew about the negotiations between Siddig Ali and the prosecution, should have delayed opening arguments, which began last week. Siddig Ali had been a participant in defense strategy.

FAA Orders Emergency Inspection Of McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Jets

Los Angeles Times

The Federal Aviation Administration has quietly ordered airlines worldwide to inspect all McDonnell Douglas MD-11 jetliners for cracks in the pylons that hold the engines to its wings, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

The FAA described the cracks as an "unsafe condition," though it did not regard the problem as serious enough to ground the MD-11 fleet before inspections of all 130 of the 300-seat wide-body jetliners in service are completed next week.

The FAA, McDonnell and its subcontractors also are still trying to identify all MD-11 parts that were supplied by the manufacturer of the cracked pylon component to determine whether other flaws might exist.

The disclosure of the cracks came as McDonnell said it is mulling whether to halt MD-11 production for up to six months in 1996 because of a dearth of new orders for the plane, which is priced between $100 million and $125 million.

Such a shutdown would mean the furlough of several thousand workers who build the giant airplane in Long Beach, Calif., where the company's 10,000-employee Douglas Aircraft division is based.

Tom Williams, a spokesman at McDonnell's headquarters in St. Louis, emphasized that a manufacturing halt is only one of several contingency plans McDonnell is considering in case no more orders materialize for the MD-11, which began flying in 1990.

U. of Maryland Alters Controversial Minority-Targeted Scholarship

The Washington Post

Three months after a federal appeals court declared the University of Maryland's Benjamin Banneker Scholarship Program unconstitutional because only blacks were eligible, the university has combined it with another merit-based program that is open to students of all races.

University officials said the change is necessary to comply with the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which they plan to file by March 30. The appellate court ruled Oct. 27 that the program illegally discriminated against non-black applicants.

University officials had argued that the program is necessary to boost the number of African American students on campus. A Latino student from Baltimore County filed suit after discovering he was ineligible for the scholarship.

The case carries national implications because many schools have scholarships targeted at minorities to promote diversity and address lingering effects of past discrimination.

Under the new system at Maryland, the Banneker program will be combined with the Francis Scott Key Scholarship program for the 1995-96 academic year.

Both the Banneker and Key programs guaranteed full payment of tuition and fees, room, board and book expenses for four years for high-achieving high school students. The Key program had been open to all students, whereas the Banneker program was designed for African Americans.