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New York divided over 9/11 terror trials

New York has seen seven major terror trials in the past, the most of any city in America. But residents – both ordinary citizens and elected officials – appear to be split over the decision to try the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks in the city.

By Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 19, 2009

New York

With the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed 9/11 mastermind and his four alleged co-conspirators in New York, the city gets the dubious title of Terror Trial Capital of America.

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There are already three terror-related trials currently going through the courts in either Manhattan or Brooklyn. In the past, the city has seen seven major terror-trials, including such high-profile cases as Ramzi Yousef convicted in 1996 of the first World Trade Center bombing, and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind cleric convicted in 1995 of plotting to bomb buildings.

Still, the decision to hold 9/11 trials in New York has been controversial here, with some arguing it will reopen psychological wounds and keep the city in the crosshairs of terrorists.

Others counter that New York's giant police force and experience in trying terrorists is up to the task. They add that the trials of the 9/11 plotters would bring back painful memories no matter where they were held.

"It is better to hold the trials here than anywhere else," says Douglas Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College in New York. "If this is a clash of cultures, a clash of civilizations, whatever it is, the hallmark of our system is our legal system so let's show the world what we are all about."

A Marist poll Tuesday found New Yorkers split over holding the trials in the city, with 45 percent favoring the idea and 41 percent against it. Fourteen percent were unsure.

"People have opinions, but the city as a whole is ambivalent," says Lee Miringoff, director of polling at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie , N.Y.

On Wednesday, former Big Apple mayor Rudolph Giuliani said in a conference call with reporters that holding the trials in New York was "absolutely the wrong decision."

The trials would add to the New York Police Department's (NYPD) burden, Mr. Giuliani said, adding that he would rather see the perpetrators tried in a military court. "There is no reason to add anything to what makes New York City a target when there is another approach," he said in the call organized by the Republican National Committee.