NEW YORK – Government prosecutors rested their terrorism case against a civil rights attorney and two others by invoking references to Usama bin Laden (search), anti-American hatred and Sept. 11, drawing immediate protests from the defense.
Attorney Lynne Stewart (search), Arabic interpreter Mohamed Yousry and U.S. postal worker Ahmed Abdel Sattar are accused of allowing an imprisoned terrorist to transmit dangerous messages to overseas followers. The three have pleaded not guilty.
In their final day of arguments Thursday, federal prosecutors read the words of Stewart's client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman (search), who was convicted in 1995 and is serving a life sentence for plotting bomb attacks in New York. The defense is set to begin its case next week.
"Drown their ships, shoot down their airplanes, kill them on earth in the sea or in the sky, kill them everywhere you find them," he said, according to a government exhibit concluding with the sheik's name and the words, "From the American Prison."
Sandwiched between exhibits showcasing the blind sheik's fiery rhetoric was a transcript of a secretly taped telephone conversation in which a reporter asked Sattar about a French journalist's claim that bin Laden said he ordered killing all Americans in early 1998 because Abdel-Rahman had done so in a prison edict.
"I don't believe the sheik ever said such a thing," Sattar told the journalist just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.
Defense lawyer Michael Tigar protested the repeated references to bin Laden and hints of the Sept. 11 attacks, saying they could corrupt the jury. He said he feared jurors might view it as "a case of them versus us."
Judge John Koeltl warned jurors even before they were chosen that charges in the case do not involve the events of Sept. 11.
Stewart represented the sheik at a 1995 trial in which he was convicted of conspiring to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (search) and to bomb New York landmarks. She and Yousry are charged with providing material support to terrorists. If convicted, each could face about 20 years in prison.
Sattar faces the most serious charge, conspiring to kidnap and kill people in a foreign country, which carries a potential life prison sentence.