NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- In a move that left federal prosecutors glowing and defense attorneys reeling, the alleged mastermind of an Islamic terrorist plot to bomb Manhattan landmarks pleaded guilty yesterday to all counts and implicated his 11 co-defendants, including radical Muslim cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.
The cooperation of Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, 34, the Sudanese-born former translator for the blind sheik, may prove devastating to his former co-defendants, particularly Sheik Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader of an Egyptian-based militant Islamic movement.
With neither jury nor reporters present, Siddig Ali told U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey that Sheik Abdel-Rahman had given him "a fatwa, or a verdict, for a killing of [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak," and had told him that the bombing of U.S. military targets and an attack on the United Nations were "permissible according to Islam," according to court transcripts.
Sheik Abdel-Rahman and the other 10 co-defendants are accused of conspiring to conduct a campaign of urban terrorism, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1990 murder of radical Rabbi Meir Kahane, and the foiled plans to bomb the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and the U.N. and FBI headquarters in New York, as well as the assassination of Mr. Mubarak and the kidnapping or assassination of other political and Jewish leaders.
If convicted, the defendants could face life imprisonment. By pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with the government, Siddig Ali is bidding for a shorter sentence. Prosecutors declined to comment on Siddig Ali, who remains in custody.
Siddig Ali said the motivation for the plots was partly to punish the United States for its support of Egypt and Israel and partly in retaliation for the imprisonment of such movement leaders as El-Sayyid Nosair, who was accused of killing Rabbi Kahane.
Siddig Ali's decision to cooperate with the government provided a welcome break for the prosecution, whose case had relied heavily on testimony and taped evidence provided by a government informer, Emad Salem.
"We do feel we have been sandbagged," said Lynn Stewart, lead attorney for Sheik Abdel-Rahman.
Ms. Stewart and other defense lawyers are expected to ask Judge Mukasey to declare a mistrial on the ground that Siddig Ali showed bad faith by discussing cooperation with the government while the defense was preparing strategy and opening statements.
In his plea, Siddig Ali specifically implicated all of his former co-defendants in various terrorist plots. He detailed their firearms and operations training in preparation for the assassination of U.S. politicians and related discussions regarding the kidnapping of former President Richard M. Nixon and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
"I truly and deeply and sincerely regret all my acts," he said, assuring the judge that his conduct and that of his co-defendants "does not represent Islam . . . because God did not tell us to kill innocent people for his sake."