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Accused Terrorists Get `N.Y.' Defense

Everything from mobster allusions to clothesline wisdom, all delivered in Brooklyn dialect

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THE New York ``sedition trial'' of 12 Middle Eastern men may not have the celebrity lawyers who that are defending O.J. Simpson, but it's clear from the start, the defense lawyers have their own New York character.

Defending Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Muslim cleric accused of masterminding a plot to blow up New York landmarks, is Lynn Stewart, assisted by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

Ms. Stewart, a lawyer of considerable talents, has a way of appealing to a Manhattan jury. With her New York accent, she comes across as an attorney version of Mrs. Goldberg, the 1950s TV character, played by Gertrude Berg, who dispensed wisdom from her clothesline on the Lower East Side.

When Ms. Stewart speaks to the jury, she sounds like a woman who can tell chicken soup from a bad alibi.

At the end of her opening remarks, she told the jury that there was nothing new about the sheik calling for the death of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's leader. ``He's been doing that for 18 years,'' she concluded, implying that making death threats to a nation's leader is part of free speech.

There is attorney John Jacobs, defending Mohammed Saleh, who used to run a gasoline station in Yonkers and is now charged with providing the fuel for potential bombs. Mr. Jacobs seems like a lawyer who might be just as comfortable defending an organized-crime family.

In fact, he suggested the government's grouping of the alleged conspirators together produced ``the Gambino family of the Jihad''; and he suggested the sheik is the ``John Gotti'' of the case. These are images every New Yorker would know from reading the tabloids.

As Jacobs moved into his presentation, he became increasingly excited and would point to the prosecutors when he wanted to indicate something bad had happened to his client. In fact, he came up with yet another new defense theory about the case: The FBI set the whole thing up so it could wrap up open cases against these groups. The defense plans to quiz FBI agents on this theory.

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