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June 25, 2006 Clement Rodney Hampton-El, better known as Dr. Rashid, was a strange cross between Batman, Mother Teresa and Ramzi Yousef. Terrorists are generally a weird bunch, but Rashid ranks up there as one of the weirdest. His story is almost whimsical, or it would be, if not for the fact it ends with a failed plot to blow up New York City tunnels and landmarks with truck bombs. Born in 1938, young Clement was raised by his parents as a God-fearing member of the Moorish Science church, a weird forerunner of the Nation of Islam. As a member of the Moorish Temple, he wore a fez and proclaimed his belief in black empowerment via flaky New Age beliefs purportedly somehow connected to Islam. Hampton-El joined the Army in 1957, but it didn't suit him very well. He found racism to be rampant among his fellow soldiers. Flaky beliefs or not, Moorish Science adherents were not known to accept racial harassment meekly. Things boiled over.

"Finally, some guys came into the barracks and they said, 'You know, you're a dead nigger.' I thought they was just saying a lot of crap, you know."

They weren't. Hampton-El was jumped by his fellow soldiers. He fought back but got knocked out. When he woke up, he was in the stockade. Since he was black and his assailants were white, Hampton-El ended up getting a dishonorable discharge (which he later successfully appealed). In 1967, Hampton-El was walking near his home in Brooklyn, when he noticed a group of Muslims standing outside a mosque on State Street, laughing at his fez. He asked them what they were laughing at, and they told him "What you are practicing is not really true Islam." Clement came back the next day and began studying Islam at the mosque. He adopted the Islamic name Abdul Rashid Abdullah, but he went by Rashid.

In 1988, for instance, he took a trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan, to volunteer his services as a mujahideen in the jihad against the Soviet Union. He made his arrangements through the Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn.

Officially, Alkifah was a branch of the Services Office, a Pakistan-based operation designed to raise funds and volunteers for the U.S. funded jihad. Because the war in Afghanistan was a CIA pet project, Alkifah didn't get a lot of scrutiny from law enforcement or intelligence services, even when it sponsored seminars featuring self-professed terrorists as keynote speakers. The Brooklyn office arranged for Rashid to meet up with the mujahideen on his arrival in Pakistan. When he arrived, the jihadists he met wanted to sign him up for religious indoctrination and combat training, but Rashid explained he only had a month off from his job, so he needed to wade right on out into the holy war. Fortunately, he explained, he had already been trained in combat by the U.S. Army, so he didn't need to train. Later, prosecutors would argue that Rashid received actually did attend training in Afghanistan, specifically on the topic of bomb-making (Rashid denied this and said he spent his first few weeks in Pakistan bedridden with a case of malaria). Either way, most accounts agree that Rashid served the jihad as a battlefield medic (who only incidentally carried a rocket launcher, he explained later). His compatriots called him "Dr. Rashid," a nickname that stuck when he returned to the States. After about a week of action, Rashid stepped on a landmine and blew half his leg off. He raided his medical pack to stop the bleeding, then waited nearly 18 hours before he was evacuated from the battle scene to a Saudi-funded hospital in Peshawar. He returned to the United States for more hospital care. Despite his short tenure in Afghanistan, Rashid had apparently become a major mujahideen celebrity. (The only account of his time in Afghanistan comes from Rashid himself, so it's quite possible there were other reasons for his celebrity status that have not been revealed to the public.) After he emerged from the hospital, Dr. Rashid was a much sought-after motivational speaker. His talks dealt with devotion to Islam, liberally sprinkled with exhortations to join the jihad. Rashid traveled around the country, attending Islamic seminars and giving speeches at local mosques. His home base continued to be Brooklyn, the Alkifah Center and a nearby mosque, Al-Farooq. As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, big changes were taking place within Dr. Rashid's Brooklyn Muslim community. In 1990, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman arrived in New York. Known as the "blind sheikh," the visually impaired Rahman was a fiery fundamentalist preacher with ties to three major Egyptian militant groups - Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist network controlled by Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Rahman was a notorious firebrand, who was tried and acquitted of providing a fatwa authorizing the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981. Given his terrorist connections, Rahman's entry into the U.S. was something of a mystery. Rumors swirled that his efforts to obtain a visa were assisted by the CIA. Rahman became the imam of the al-Farooq mosque where Rashid worshiped. An extreme fundamentalist trained in Saudi Arabia and at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, Rahman proved immediately divisive in the community, preaching against Western governments and ostracizing Brooklyn Muslims who sold unclean goods (like pork and porn) to corrupt infidel New Yorkers. Rahman seized control of the Alkifah Center in 1991, when its previous leader was brutally assassinated. Officially, the murder remains unsolved, but it's widely believed that Shalabi was killed on orders from Rahman, who took control of the center's considerable finances and overseas connections. Dr. Rashid was close to Rahman, and they traveled together to speak at Islamic conferences in such locations as Detroit, Chicago and Oklahoma City. When he wasn't busy preaching, Rashid was preparing for the future. Starting in 1989, Rashid and other radical Islamist began a rigorous program of jihad training, purportedly for volunteers in Afghanistan and Bosnia (where a new jihad was in its early stages). Rashid and other Brooklyn Muslims trained in firearms use at a rifle range in New Jersey, and in guerrilla techniques at a rural camp in central Pennsylvania. The FBI monitored this activity but did nothing about it. It's likely that some of the trainees were already formally part of a terrorist sleeper cell by the time Rahman arrived on the scene, but the "blind Sheikh" galvanized their activities into formal operations. One of the men who trained with Rashid was El Sayyid Nosair, a volunteer at the Alkifah center. Nosair had emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt in the mid-1980s, along with several other terrorist sleeper agents linked to Zawahiri. The first operation carried out by the cell was the assassination of right-wing rabbi Meir Kahane by Nosair. Kahane was an outspoken advocate of deporting all Palestinians out of Israel and he called for the institution of a Jewish theocracy. Nosair shot Kahane in the head during a speech in front of a packed audience of hundreds of people, then shot his way down the street during an escape attempt. Unbelievably, despite an excessive amount of shooting and a room full of witnesses, Nosair was acquitted of the murder and received a relatively short sentence for a federal firearms violation. It later emerged that Dr. Rashid was originally supposed to be Nosair's getaway driver, but he refused to appear on the scene, citing the fact that the FBI had him under close surveillance. Later, Rashid reportedly berated himself for not taking the job, considering that Nosair nearly escaped even without assistance. A driver would likely have made the difference. Although Nosair had been caught, it had little impact on the Brooklyn cell's operations. The FBI had seized cartons of documents from his apartment, but never bothered to translate them from the original Arabic. Had they done so, they would have found clues to proposed terror plots all around the city. They would also have found a document referring to a previously unknown terror organization called "The Base," or in Arabic, al Qaeda. As the Afghanistan jihad wound down at the end of the 1980s, Alkifah had begun to do more and more business on behalf of al Qaeda, and its wealthy Saudi leader, Osama bin Laden. By the time Dr. Rashid made arrangements to go to Pakistan, al Qaeda was well on its way to becoming the dominant force at the center. Several of the Alkifah Center's "volunteers" were tied to bin Laden and al Qaeda (including Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden's personal secretary, and Ali Mohammed, bin Laden's chief of security), but the U.S. government didn't even know the terror network's name. If they had bothered to translate Nosair's material, and follow up on the leads contained within, they might have been prepared for Ramzi Yousef's arrival in Brooklyn in late 1992. Yousef had been summoned to New York from Pakistan by the blind sheikh. Yousef's work in New York was paid for in part by his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and in part by bin Laden. On his arrival in the States, Yousef joined forces with a cabal of Alkifah-linked terorrists, including Mahmud Abouhalima, another associate of Dr. Rashid's. Dr. Rashid himself was only tangentially connected to Yousef's reason for being in New York, a plot to bomb the World Trade Center. But Rashid was not idle during this time. After coming back from Afghanistan, Dr. Rashid's career had proceeded on two fronts, neither of which had anything to do with medicine. First, he had established himself as a go-to guy for guns and other jihad supplies, such as explosives and detonators. He paid for weapons from gun shows, local stores and freelance sellers. In addition to his clients providing "security" services at Brooklyn mosques and Alkifah, Rashid made deals with al-Faruq, a clannish group of black separatist Muslims with heavily armed rural compounds around the country. ( Jamaat Al Fuqra ) Rashid's other business was international. Toward the end of 1992, while Yousef was busy building a truck bomb that would kill six and injure a thousand at the WTC, Dr. Rashid was doing business on behalf of the Saudis. In December 1992, Rashid went to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., where he met with high ranking Saudi government officials. The Saudis had several tasks for the Afghan veteran. Rashid met with a U.S. Marine sergeant who gave him a list of servicemen who were about to rotate out of active duty. Rashid was ordered to recruit terrorists and trainers from the list, some of whom were slated to fight in Bosnia, where al Qaeda was trying to jumpstart a revolution. At one point, Rashid claimed he had thousands of names in his recruitment list, many of which appear to have been collected by the Saudi government during the Gulf War. The Saudis had other jobs for Rashid as well. Early in 1993, while Yousef was blowing up the World Trade Center, Rashid was traveling to Europe where he would ferry large amounts of cash back to the U.S. from wealthy Saudi donors who were trying to protect their identities. Some of the money went to fund terrorist training and operations on U.S. soil, some of it was earmarked for Bosnia. In May, Rashid traveled to Saudi Arabia in person, then to the Philippines, where he attended a symposium sponsored by the Islamic Da'wa Council of the Philippines, a charitable organization that Philippines authorities say was linked to bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a Saudi businessman who is alleged to have acted as a top al Qaeda financier. While in the Philippines, Rashid learned about terrorist training camps in the south of the country. When he came back to the U.S., he told his friends that he was planning to move to the Philippines and take part in jihad there. Some of them asked to join him. Before they left, however, there was one more job to do in the United States. In the wake of the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993, several members of the Brooklyn sleeper cell had been arrested or forced to flee the country. The remaining terrorists were determined to follow up on Yousef's opening salvo. The plot was ambitious. The cell wanted to create a "Day of Terror," with a series of near-simultaneous bombings across New York City. At various stages, the plot looked at tunnels, federal buildings, courthouses and the United Nations as targets. The final list was narrowed down to five, including the U.N., the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel, the George Washington Bridge and the Manhattan Federal Building, which housed the FBI's New York offices. It would be a highly synchronized attack, a style now considered an al Qaeda trademark.

Sheik gets life sentence in terror trial

January 17, 1996
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EST

Sheik sentenced

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Amid tight security Wednesday, a federal judge handed down stiff sentences to blind Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and his nine co-conspirators who were convicted of hatching a plot to bomb the United Nations, FBI offices, and other New York landmarks.

Judge Michael Mukasey of Manhattan's U.S. District Court sentenced Abdel-Rahman, the militant spiritual leader believed to have masterminded the conspiracy, to life in prison without parole.

Before he was sentenced, the 57-year-old Abdel-Rahman delivered a long, ardent speech in Arabic. "This case is nothing but an extension of the American war against Islam," he told the judge through an interpreter.

Ahmed Sattar, an aide to the sheik, told CNN that he had spoken to Abdel-Rahman Tuesday night and the cleric told him that "he had a clear conscience" and was "at peace."

Of the cleric's disciples, the judge was most punishing on El Sayyid Nosair, condemning him to life in prison for his role in the bomb plot and for killing militant anti-Arab Rabbi Meir Kahane in a New York hotel in 1990.

Nosair's cousin Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, 45, received 57 years for the conspiracy and other charges, including possession of bogus passports and visas intended to get Nosair out of the country following a jailbreak.

sheik mubarak

Seven other defendants received sentences between 25 and 35 years each for planning what prosecutors called a "war of urban terrorism" aimed at changing U.S. policy in the Middle East.

"You agreed to participate in a conspiracy to commit a monstrous crime," Judge Mukasey told one defendant.

A dozen New York City police officers -- twice the usual complement -- patrolled outside the courthouse, along with two bomb-sniffing dogs who scoured the courthouse with federal agents Wednesday morning. No disturbances were reported.

Abdel-Rahman and nine others were convicted October 1 of seditious conspiracy for their role in a plot to bomb the United Nations, FBI headquarters in Manhattan, two tunnels in New York and a bridge connecting New Jersey with Manhattan -- all in one day.

The government said the group also was responsible for the February 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and injured more than 1,000.

The sheik also was convicted in a plot to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The government said the defendants wanted to use urban terrorism to pressure the United States into reducing support for Middle East nations that opposed the sheik's radical brand of Islam.

Defendants Clement Hampton-El, 57, Victor Alvarez, 29, Tarig Elhassan, 40, and Mohammed Saleh, 39, each were sentenced to 35 years in prison for their role in the plots.

Alvarez was portrayed during the nine-month trial as a borderline mentally handicapped man from a broken family, and denied any part in the conspiracy.

But the judge remained unmoved. "Forgive me if it sounds cold-hearted," Mukasey said, "but people who are killed by people with limited capacity are just as dead as people killed by geniuses."

Fadil Abdelgani, 33, was sentenced to 25 years in prison; his cousin, Amir Abdelgani, 35, received 30 years; and Fares Khallafalla, 33, received 30 years. Fadil Abdelgani was captured on videotape mixing chemicals for a potential bomb.

All the defendants, speaking before their individual sentencings, maintained that they were innocent.

"Because of the bombing of the World Trade Center, the government made up this case," insisted Nosair, who had been acquitted of the rabbi's murder in state court before being charged with the assassination as part of the conspiracy.

"I am not a terrorist. I condemn terrorism in the world." Saleh said. "I ask God Almighty that one day... the truth will come out." Saleh was accused of agreeing to provide fuel oil for the bomb conspiracy.

Brooklyn native Clement Hampton-El addressed the prosecutors in court. "You'll be next," he said to them. "You knew when you brought me here that I was innocent. The day will come for you."

During the nine-month trial, defense attorney Lynne Stewart argued that the sheik was a spiritual leader being prosecuted for his speech.

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