In Sentencing Bombers, Judge Takes Hard Line

NEW YORK - Yesterday's sentencing of four Muslim fundamentalists brought to a close the first chapter in the tale of terrorism that culminated Feb. 26, 1993, when a bomb rocked the World Trade Center, killing six, injuring 1,000 and causing more than $500 million in damage.

Four men convicted in the bombing each drew 240 years behind bars from a judge who arrived at the sentence by adding up the victims' lost years of life.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy angrily rejected the defendants' defiant claims of innocence, saying they robbed a nation of its sense of security.

"Prior to February 26th, 1993, this country was a much freer place," Duffy told Mohammad Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad Ajaj yesterday. "Now we have guards. Now we have an identification-card mentality. It's not quite as free."

The judge said he arrived at the sentences by calculating how much life was lost by the six killed - a combined 180 years - and adding 30 years each on two other charges. There is no parole in the federal system.

Duffy also fined the men $250,000 each and told them that if they ever sold their story, the money would go to the victims.

The defendants did not go quietly or quickly.

All four read defiant, often rambling statements in their native Arabic that lasted a total of more than seven hours.

Abouhalima complained that jurors had slept through testimony, and he complained that prison guards had not given him prayer beads and rugs.

"You're a convicted felon," Duffy countered, as he began Abouhalima's sentencing. "You're not some guy on vacation."

Salameh, who is a Palestinian immigrant, likened himself to a falsely accused Nazi war criminal.

The judge responded with icy disgust, calling Salameh a "sneak and a coward" and Abouhalima a coward "four times over."

When his turn came to speak, Ayyad said he would not "stand here and cry and ask for mercy.

". . . I'm telling you you're wrong because you don't know Muslims as they really are," he said.

The judge responded by calling him "the most hypocritical person in the world."

Coming last was Ajaj, who spoke for nearly three hours, calling his conviction a farce and wearing out one translator with an exhaustive history of alleged terrorism by the U.S. government and Israel.

"You have a lot of nerve," said the judge, finally cutting off Ajaj. "You lecture this country about terrorism. . . . If it weren't for you, there would be no bombing. The others were low. You were lower."

He chastised the defendants for using Islam to defend themselves.

"You talk about the Koran," he told Ayyad. "You have shamed it. . . . You violated the laws not only of man, but God."

Duffy said that if the bombers had succeeded in toppling one tower into the other, 100,000 people could have died. He also said if the sodium cyanide in the bomb had been "sucked into the north tower, everybody in the north tower would have been killed."

Prosecutors said Salameh, 26, of Jersey City, N.J., helped buy and build the bomb. Abouhalima, 34, of Woodbridge, N.J., was frequently seen in the apartment where the bomb was built.

Ayyad, 26, of Maplewood, N.J., was convicted of ordering chemicals for the bomb; prosecutors said he sent messages to news organizations saying the bombing was to protest U.S. aid to Israel.

And Ajaj, 28, of Houston, was convicted of smuggling bombmaking manuals into the United States.

Three other men were charged with conspiracy in the bombing. Bilal Alkaisi, 28, pleaded guilty to a minor charge and awaits sentencing. Ramzi Yousef, 26, and another suspect, Abdul Yasin, 33, are fugitives.

In a related case, 14 others are charged with plotting to blow up the United Nations, the Manhattan federal building housing the FBI and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey. The trade center bombing allegedly was part of that conspiracy; the trial is set for this fall.

The defendants include Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a Muslim fundamentalist with followers in the Middle East and parts of New York, and Sayyid Nosair, who once was accused but later acquitted of killing right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane. Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.