N.Y. Apartment Links Bombing, 1990 Slaying
Four-C, 57 Prospect Park Southwest, Brooklyn. A crowded little apartment along a grimy pink hallway in a building heavily populated by recent immigrants.
For authorities investigating the bombing of the World Trade Center, it is this address that links at least two of the bombing suspects, both Muslims, with an Arab immigrant who allegedly was involved in the 1990 slaying of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the right-wing Jewish leader.
The apartment is rented by Ibrahim A. Elgabrowny, who was arrested there Thursday and charged on Friday with obstructing justice in connection with the bombing investigation. But it also has occasionally served as an address for Mohammed A. Salameh, the principal suspect in the case, and for El Sayyid Nosair, who was tried in the Kahane slaying and is serving a jail sentence for illegal weapons possession.
While little is known about the circumstances that led to the death of at least five people in the trade center bombing, it appears that Salameh and Elgabrowny were previously drawn together by their interest in winning Nosair’s freedom from prison.
Now serving a 22-year sentence at Attica State Prison in Upstate New York, Nosair has a loyal group of supporters within the Muslim community. They have sought to raise money for him and have protested on his behalf. Once Nosair was acquitted on the charge of murdering Kahane, his supporters argued unsuccessfully that he should not be imprisoned on related charges.
In the eyes of Kahane’s followers, Nosair’s supporters constituted “a terrorist cell.” But in the estimation of the people who watched their daily activities, they appeared to be nothing more than a highly devout group of people who lived a meager existence similar to many other recent immigrants to the United States.
Neighbors said Salameh and Elgabrowny were among a group of men who gathered frequently for meals and prayer with other Muslims, who often visited the local mosque and--in Salameh’s case--sometimes could not meet the rent.
On Friday, Apartment 4-C was occupied only by Elgabrowny’s American-born wife, Lisa, and two children. When interviewed by The Times, she was close to tears and indicated she was distraught that her husband had been denied bail.
Like many Muslim women, she wore a veil and claimed to know little about her husband’s affairs. “Men and women are separated in Islam,” she said.
Although she insisted that the news media had misconstrued her husband’s role in the bombing case, she declined an opportunity to tell her side of the story. “So much has been written that isn’t true,” she said, closing the door of the apartment.
The mailbox for Apartment 4-C listed Elgabrowny as the tenant, but the name “Nosair” was written above it.
At Elgabrowny’s arraignment, it was disclosed that the officials who searched his apartment on Thursday found five fraudulent Nicaraguan passports for Nosair, his wife and three children. Also recovered was a valid U.S. passport in Nosair’s legal name, El-Sayyid Abdulaziz.
Elgabrowny and Nosair are cousins, according to police. They are “distant cousins,” according to Lisa Elgabrowny. Although Nosair lived in New Jersey, he apparently adopted Apartment 4-C as his home address so he could obtain a job with the City of New York, which requires its employees to be residents.
“If you had a cousin who was out of work, wouldn’t you lend him the use of your address?” asked Lisa Elgabrowny.
Likewise, Salameh, the chief suspect in the bombing, also listed Apartment 4-C as his address when he obtained a driver’s license, even though he appeared to be living in Jersey City, N.J. He allegedly used that license to rent the van believed to have been used in the bombing.
But the apartment is apparently not the only link between these men.
At the Brooklyn headquarters of Kahane Chai, an organization founded by the followers of Kahane, Chairman Mike Guzofsky displayed photographs Friday that also appeared to link the two suspects to Nosair.
One of the photographs was taken by Kahane Chai members at a demonstration on Nosair’s behalf outside the courthouse where he was sentenced. A man resembling Salameh stood amid the demonstrators, who carried signs reading “Nosair is a Family Man” and “Nosair was acquitted.”
Another photograph, snapped outside the home of the judge who sentenced Nosair, showed a man resembling Elgabrowny carrying a sign that read: “D’Amato Supports Racism.” At the time, Sen. Alphonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.) was advocating a stiff sentence for Nosair.
In Egypt, Montasser Zayat, a Cairo lawyer who was on Nosair’s defense team in New York, said he suspected, but was not certain, that Salameh was among the men who always attended court proceedings for Nosair.
“There were a lot of Arabs who came to the court to support Nosair, and as far as I can remember, there was this person called Salameh,” he said.
He said most of the men who attended the trial were--like Nosair himself--a member of the Jersey City mosque headed by exiled Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, spiritual leader of the underground Gamaa al Islamiya in Egypt. Salameh also has been identified as a member of that mosque.
Zayat said Elgabrowny headed an international campaign to raise funds for Nosair’s defense. He said that at Elgabrowny’s request, he placed ads in several Egyptian newspapers seeking contributions. No money was ever raised, however.
In Jersey City, where Salameh occupied a spacious apartment along with some other Muslims, neighbors found it hard to believe that he might be accused of manufacturing the bomb that exploded in the trade center--especially since he seemed to have no understanding of electrical wiring.
One day when Salameh’s apartment blew a fuse, they said, the neighbors had to show him how to replace it. In fact, they said, Salameh and his roommates at first thought the lights had been turned out by the landlord because the rent had not been paid.
Over the past two years, Salameh and his companions occupied two different apartments in the three-story building. They had a reputation for being polite and for hosting large groups of Arab immigrants.
“There was always a lot of activity going on in there,” said a neighbor who declined to be identified. “They were very much a group.”
None of the men who frequented Salameh’s apartment appeared to hold regular jobs. Instead, they got together on a regular basis for prayers. And after prayers, the neighbors said, they would often cook meals.
Sometimes, according to the other residents, as many as 30 people would gather in the sparsely furnished apartment occupied by Salameh.
“They prayed every day to Mecca and one day the superintendent came in to tell them about the rent, and they told her she had to wait until they finished praying,” recalled one neighbor.
Apartments in Salameh’s building rent for $500 to $600 a month.
In Brooklyn, the Elgabrowny family appeared to live a quieter life. Dorles Steelson, the superintendent at 57 Prospect Park Southwest, estimated that they had lived there for eight or nine years.
“They were a very quiet family,” she said.
Times staff writers Gebe Martinez in New York and Kim Murphy in Cairo contributed to this story.