A federal court jury in Manhattan Wednesday found Ramzi Ahmed Yousef guilty of masterminding the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and convicted a co-defendant on charges that he drove an explosives-laden van into the basement garage of the complex.
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Yousef as one of the most sinister terrorists in history and told the jury that he had hoped to topple one of the trade center’s twin 110-story towers into the other like giant dominoes, killing as many as 250,000 people.
The motive, government lawyers said, was to punish the United States for its support of Israel.
The attack on Feb. 23, 1993, killed six people, injured 1,000 and shattered the myth the United States was exempt from terrorism.
The verdict against Yousef, 29, and Eyad Ismoil, 26, came on the third day of deliberations. Both face life in prison.
In an earlier trial, Yousef was found guilty of plotting to blow up a dozen U.S. airliners during 24 hours of terror over the Pacific. He is still to be sentenced in that case.
Yousef and Ismoil fled New York City the night of the bombing. The U.S. government posted a $2 million reward for the man prosecutors described as the architect of the attack, and Yousef was captured in Pakistan in 1995. Ismoil was seized the same year in Jordan.
Prosecutors charged that after the blast, Yousef watched smoke pouring from the twin towers from a spot on the New Jersey waterfront.
Agents who rode with Yousef during the flight from Pakistan told the jury that he said he had considered a poison gas attack on the World Trade Center, but decided it would be too costly.
“Yousef bragged to the agents who brought him over here what he did,” charged Assistant U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley, who told the jurors the defendant had expressed regret that he didn’t kill enough people.
“These defendants bombed the World Trade Center because of their own prejudice and their own hatred for Israel,” said another prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin. “The defendants thought they were above the law.”
During more than two months of testimony by more than 100 witnesses, government lawyers presented chemical evidence, reports of residue and fingerprints found at bomb-making sites in New Jersey, statements from explosives experts, telephone receipts and other evidence detailing the plot.
Jurors learned that Yousef and another companion arrived at New York’s Kennedy International Airport on Sept. 1, 1992, and that in November Yousef, using an alias, ordered and paid for urea and nitric acid, components of the bomb.
Prosecutors charged that Yousef and other plotters mixed chemicals to produce explosives in a Jersey City apartment and a nearby storage shed and that he conferred with Ismoil by phone before Ismoil traveled to New York from Dallas, on Feb. 9, 1993.
The day before the blast, prosecutors said, Yousef and others loaded three tanks of hydrogen gas - ingredients of the bomb - into a rented Ryder van. Government lawyers said the next day, with Ismoil at the wheel, the van was driven into the garage area beneath the Vista Hotel, situated in the trade center complex.
“The last time that these two people were sitting next to each other before they came to this courtroom was that day in the van,” Kelley told the jurors. “Picture them getting in the back of that van and lighting a fuse.”
Kelley charged the bomb exploded moments later.
He said that Ismoil’s fingerprints were recovered from the Jersey City apartment where portions of the bomb were mixed.
Prosecutors charged that hours after the explosion, Yousef, using an airline ticket in the name of an alias, traveled from Kennedy Airport to Karachi, Pakistan. The same night, Ismoil flew to Amman, Jordan.