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Cleric Tied to Bomb Suspects Faces Arrest : Investigation: Federal officials decide to seize Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman. He may be charged with violating immigration laws.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Justice Department has decided to arrest Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the fiery cleric whose followers are charged with the World Trade Center bombing and with planning the destruction of the United Nations and other New York City landmarks, sources said Thursday. He is to be taken into custody for violating immigration laws.

The decision was made jointly by the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney in New York and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Sources said the 55-year-old blind cleric was to be seized because he allegedly violated conditions attached to his being at large while he is appealing a court decision that he entered the United States illegally in 1991. Abdul Rahman, who has denied any involvement in the trade center bombing and subsequently alleged terrorist plot, was ordered deported March 17 because he lied on immigration papers.

The decision came after intense pressure on the Justice Department to respond to the arrests of several of the sheik’s followers in connection with the trade center explosion and the latest alleged plot.

“The consensus in New York is he has violated his parole and there is some danger that he will flee,” a government source said.

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The precise nature of the violation was not spelled out, and it was unclear when Abdul Rahman would be apprehended. Authorities said when the cleric entered the United States he failed to disclose that he was a bigamist and had been convicted in Egypt of a check fraud charge.

Atty. Gen. Janet Reno had been strongly urged by Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.), who was reported to be an assassination target by some of the sheik’s followers, to order the arrest.

Abdul Rahman, who preaches at mosques in Jersey City and in Brooklyn, has advocated the violent overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But he has denied promoting violence in the United States.

Shortly after suspects were seized a week ago in the plot to bomb the United Nations headquarters, two Hudson River tunnels and the Federal Building containing the offices of the FBI, federal agents raided the sheik’s apartment in Jersey City. They carted away boxes of documents.

Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, the alleged ringleader of the latest bomb plot, served as translator for Abdul Rahman as did Emad Ali Salem, a former Egyptian army officer who is the government’s informant in the case. Mahmud Abouhalima, described by some investigators as the “field general” of the trade center bombing, also acted at one point as the sheik’s translator.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors charged in a court hearing that Mohammad Saleh, a suspect in the aborted plot, had claimed to have contacts with Hamas, a radical Palestinian group, during a secretly recorded conversation in which he allegedly was recruited for the scheme.

The reference to Hamas is the first public report of a possible link between the plotters and any organized international group. But in response to questioning from U.S. Magistrate James C. Francis, prosecutors stressed that they were not accusing Hamas of any involvement in the plot at this time.

“It is not your contention in discussing Hamas that this relates to this particular case,” Francis asked Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert S. Khuzami.

“Not presently, your honor,” Khuzami replied. He declined to elaborate.

Government lawyers revealed portions of the tape recording at a court hearing in which Saleh, a 40-year-old gas station operator, was ordered held without bail. Attorneys said the tape also included discussion by the suspects about including the George Washington Bridge among sites for possible attack.

Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist group influenced by Iran, is a competitor with the PLO for the allegiance of West Bank and Gaza strip Palestinians. The organization has targeted the Israeli military and settlers of the occupied territories but has never been formally linked to acts of violence against any other groups.

In the case of Clement Rodney Hampton-El, also heard on Thursday, the magistrate said he wanted transcripts of conversations between the defendant and others to determine if the suspect was willing to provide the alleged conspirators with detonating devices.

Times staff writer Richard A. Serrano in New York contributed to this story.


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