Prosecutors Wind Down Case in Tower Bombing
Judge admits `highly inflammatory' video as evidence. US BLAMES DEDICATED TERRORIST
NEW YORK — WHAT kind of person would want to blow up the World Trade Center?
This week, the government, through the evidence it presented, gave the jurors in the 4 1/2-month-long bombing trial the government's answer: a dedicated terrorist who thinks the United States is trying to dominate Islam.
In potentially damaging evidence presented Jan. 31, a translator read from a book found in the suitcase of one defendant, Ahmad Ajaj, as he tried to enter the US from Pakistan on Sept. 1, 1992. The book refers to the US as the new enemy trying to counter the ``firebrand,'' meaning jihad, holy war.
Mr. Ajaj's suitcase also contained manuals on how to make bombs and destroy buildings. During most of the trial proceedings Jan. 31, the translator, Salim Daniel, read from the manuals specific instructions on how to make powerful bombs out of nitroglycerin and fertilizer - the type of materials allegedly used in the Feb. 26, 1993 bombing. Ajaj was still in jail on a fake passport charge on the day of the bombing, but prosecutors have tried to link him to the other defendants.
The most damaging evidence presented Jan. 31 was a videotape played for the jury.
The video, which appeared to be homemade, calls on adherents of Islam to wage a holy war. The war should be against Jews, Christians, and Americans, the translator read.
Then the video shows images of buildings exploding and a vehicle being blown across a bridge. A woman's voice asks: ``Do you see these explosions? Aren't they beautiful and nice?''
The video then turns to bombmaking, describing the ingredients needed to concoct the incidiary devices. Ingredients are mixed in beakers, and tiny quantities of the output are blown up for the film, which begins with the message: ``International Islamic Resistance presents a course in manufacturing explosives.''
But the most damaging part of the video - which has a B-film appearance to it - follows the bombmaking explanation.
Armed terrorists are filmed rappelling down walls, pretending to cut the throats of sentries, and putting bombs under cars. Then the camera shifts to a man who appears to be in a trance as he drives a van toward a sand-colored building, which some observers believe is supposed to be a US embassy. Guards seem to be shooting, but the terrorist smashes the van through the entrance of the building. Suddenly, there are flames and smoke as the man detonates a powerful bomb.
The prosecutor freeze-framed the explosion and asked Mr. Daniel if he recognized the flag on the top of the building. ``I believe it's the American flag,'' Daniel replied.
The trial was recessed before Ajaj's attorney, Austin Campriello, had a chance to cross-examine the translator. Outside the courtroom, he said he would not discuss any of the evidence. However, in his cross-examination of Daniel, he read parts of the manuals that dealt with Afghanistan and its war against the former Soviet Union.
Last week, Mr. Campriello had asked that the film not to be shown, and he asked for a mistrial. The requests were rejected by Judge Kevin Duffy, who said the film was ``...highly inflammatory, but it proves a lot.''
Experts on Middle East terrorism are not surprised by the tape. ``It is consistent with Islamic Jihad, Hamas [a radical Palestinian group], or people opposed to Arab moderates, and it is consistent with what they have done and the propaganda they have generated,'' says Michael Dobkowski, a professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.
The film also evokes the bombing of the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. In that bombing, an Islamic militant drove a truck loaded with explosives into the building, killing 241 Marines. ``Symbolically, they can't really destroy significant targets or infrastructure, but what they can do if they are successful and lucky is a symbolic terrorist attack,'' says Professor Dobkowski, who is also a specialist in Palestinian and Middle Eastern affairs.
The screening of the video comes near the end of the prosecution's case. The prosecutor, Gilmore Childers, has indicated that he has only five more witnesses to call.
Many of the remaining witnesses are expected to be Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who will continue to draw together the reams of evidence presented by the government.
Robert Precht, one of the defense lawyers, says the defense's case will only take two to three weeks. The jury may get the case as early as the beginning of March.