NEW YORK – Fifteen years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a Palestinian sentenced to more than 100 years in prison in the attack claims that a vengeful U.S. government has blocked him from appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ahmad Mohammed Ajaj, who remains in extreme isolation in the nation's most secure prison, filed a lawsuit last year in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against more than a dozen judges, federal court employees, Bureau of Prisons officials and his former defense lawyer Maranda Fritz.
He said they failed to notify him of appeals court rulings and blocked his access to what he would need for a Supreme Court appeal of his conviction on conspiracy charges in the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000 others.
In court documents filed last week, government lawyers said Ajaj has no right to bring the claims against court personnel.
Fritz, the defense lawyer, said in an interview that she worked on the case for seven years, collected evidence from around the globe and has not worked on the case in five or six years.
"I was terribly disappointed when the Supreme Court would not accept the case," she said. "I believe the results were wrong. I argued it in every way that I knew how. I think the issues were substantial and novel enough."
In his lawsuit, Ajaj claimed the U.S. judicial system denied him access to the courts in retaliation against him and Arab and Muslim prisoners for the "9-11-2001 tragedy" and for his complaints about the government's conduct.
The government said the defendants were protected from Ajaj's claims by "absolute immunity," provided by law for actions undertaken in their official capacity.
The Supreme Court has at least twice declined to hear Ajaj's case since the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in August 2001. Ajaj claims his chances before the high court were damaged when court personnel failed to notify him of appeals court rulings and he could not file appeals on time.
Ajaj, who is serving a 114-year sentence at the Supermax penitentiary in Florence, Colo., has always maintained his innocence, pointing out that he was taken into custody as soon as he arrived in New York on a trip from Pakistan on Sept. 1, 1992, six months before the bombing.
Ajaj was taken into custody and charged with passport fraud after federal inspectors discovered that his passport had been altered and that there were bombmaking instructions in his luggage. He pleaded guilty and served a six-month sentence. He then was freed but was taken into custody days after the bombing and was charged in that attack.
At trial, prosecutors showed evidence he kept in phone contact with Ramzi Yousef as Yousef and three others built the bomb that created a giant crater in the trade center parking garage. They said he also tried to get custody of the suitcase containing the bombmaking instructions.