The conviction of ten men for seditious conspiracy to bomb and assassinate in New York and elsewhere is a victory for the FBI and the Justice Department in the war against terrorism. They did their jobs. Americans are a little safer.
Conspiracies are not easy to prove. In this one, the government had videotapes of defendants mixing bombs, audiotapes of them discussing targets and the corroboration of one defendant who had pleaded guilty.
That should overwhelm any doubts caused by the use of a double agent paid to infiltrate the ring. He did not cause the crimes. More troubling to some but gratifying to most Americans is the conviction of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman for what he had said in Arabic to adherents. Religion is no crime. Nor are fundamentalism or opposition to the government of Egypt. But guiding others to murder, to bomb tunnels and the United Nations, to try to assassinate the president of Egypt, are serious crimes which the First Amendment does not protect.
With this trial and one more to come, the government has gone a long way to breaking up the conspiracy that murdered the American-Israeli extremist Meyer Kahane in 1991 and bombed the New York World Trade Center in 1993 and planned a massive day of terror in New York. That the central leader and goad was Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman is beyond doubt. He has been trying to inspire the overthrow of the government of Egypt since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
But the Justice Department has not cleared everything up. The sheik's sources of funding and support are unknown. He is a menace more to Egypt than to this country, where he has been five years. Now that he faces decades longer in prison, the nervous Egyptian regime of President Hosni Mubarak is breathing easier.
The ten defendants, eight immigrants and two Americans, are militant Muslims by their own lights. They no more characterize Islam than one murderous nut may characterize Christianity or Judaism. Islam was not on trial and is no enemy.
Sheik Omar and his adherents are. The sheik's Islamic Group in Egypt is known for rapid reprisal to any blow against it. That and the agreement between Israel and the PLO with the good offices of President Clinton make the U.S. a likely target for terrorism. The extra precautions taken at airports, and for the visit of Pope John Paul II to New York and Baltimore, are absolutely necessary.
A major battle against international terrorism has just been won. The war continues.