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Four guilty in plot to bomb Trade Center

A federal jury found four militant Muslims guilty of conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center in what prosecutors called the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

The anonymous jury Friday convicted the defendants on conspiracy, assault and various explosives charges.

The Feb. 26, 1993, blast filled the 110-story twin towers with smoke and flames on that snowy Friday afternoon. It killed six people and injured more than 1,000 others. It also shattered America's sense of post-Cold War invulnerability, the belief that terrorism was an overseas phenomenon.

All four defendants could receive life in prison without parole when they are sentenced on May 4.

Turmoil erupted in the third-floor courtroom when the verdicts were announced.

"Injustice! Victim!" shouted Mohammad Salameh, the chief defendant in the case, which was based overwhelmingly on circumstantial evidence. "God is great!" his three companions called out in defiance, pounding on the defense table.

The brother of one of the men was held in contempt for joining in the outburst.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy later said that he believed the disturbance was a deliberate attempt to influence the jury.

"This verdict should send a clear and unmistakable message that we will not tolerate terrorism in this country," said U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.

Despite its great length (five months) and huge numbers of witnesses (207) and exhibits (1,003), the trial left unanswered compelling questions about one of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

Who was behind the plot? Who gave the orders? Where did the money come from to finance it? Were the men now convicted operating on their own or were they mere foot soldiers in a larger, albeit invisible, terrorist army?

"You don't have answers to all those questions," White said, adding that prosecutors had presented what was needed, evidence to convict the defendants of the specific criminal act of blowing up a bomb beneath the Trade Center.

Following the verdicts, the State Department warned Americans of possible attacks by Islamic extremists, particularly in Egypt, in retaliation for the verdicts.

All of the Trade Center defendants are followers of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a militant cleric and opponent of Egypt's current government who is imprisoned in Manhattan awaiting trial later this year in an alleged plot to bomb the United Nations and three other prominent New York City targets.

The jury Friday found Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad Ajaj guilty of conspiring to detonate a bomb in the garage area beneath the Trade Center, causing widespread injuries, loss of life and millions of dollars in damage.

Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, an Iraqi who fled the New York area hours after the explosion, was indicted as a fugitive and is still at large.

Investigators believe he is the ringleader, and he is the subject of an international search.

Lawyers for some of the defendants said that they would appeal.

Robert E. Precht, Salameh's attorney, charged that pretrial leaks by the government had sought to demonize his client.

"No one in government should be patting themselves on the back and pretending this was a fair outcome," he said.

_ Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Chronology

1993

Feb. 26 _ At 12:18 p.m., bomb explodes in parking garage beneath World Trade Center, killing six, injuring more than 1,000 and crippling the twin 110-story towers.

Feb. 28 _ FBI confirms bomb caused explosion. In wreckage, federal agents find shattered van part with vehicle identification number.

March 4 _ Mohammad Salameh arrested as he tries to reclaim rental deposit on van wrecked in blast.

March 5 _ Federal authorities seize chemicals at shed Salameh had rented.

March 9 _ Ahmad Ajaj jailed and questioned about bombing; charged later.

March 10 _ Nidal A. Ayyad arrested at his New Jersey home.

March 18 _ Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, associated with Jersey City, N.J., mosque where bombing suspects worshiped, denies he was involved.

March 24 _ Mahmud Abouhalima arrested in Egypt; returned to United States.

March 25 _ Bilal Alkaisi, former roommate of Salameh, surrenders to FBI. He is charged in bombing but scheduled for separate trial.

June 24 _ In separate case, eight Muslim fundamentalists are charged in a plot to bomb the United Nations and a bridge and tunnels connecting New Jersey and Manhattan. Seven more _ including Abdel-Rahman _ charged on Aug. 25.

Sept. 14 _ Trade Center trial opens for four of seven defendants.

1994

Feb. 23 _ Jury begins deliberations.

March 4 _ All four defendants convicted.

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