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Bombing Trial Begins Amid Terrorism Scare

After preventing latest alleged bomb plot, US pursues conviction of man in World Trade Center case

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After four years, the World Trade Center bombing is approaching a legal end - one that could send a tough signal to terrorists worldwide.

Today, the government will present opening arguments that Ramzi Ahmed Yousef was the so-called mastermind of the February 1993 bombing that killed six people and injured 1,000.

The trial will take place in the heavily guarded courtroom of Judge Kevin Duffy, who has presided over the two earlier trials related to the bombing. Like those cases, this one will be closely watched nationwide since the bombing - one of the few terrorist attacks on US soil - is considered a watermark in US history.

"I think the real message of this trial is that there is no place where you are safe if you commit an act of terrorism against the United States," says John Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School.

The trial is taking on even more importance, coming as it does amid the investigation by the FBI and local police into an apparent plot to blow up New York's subway system.

Last Thursday, in a lightning raid, New York police seized three men of Middle East background and several bombs after one of the suspects' roommates flagged down a security officer and told him of the alleged plot.

By Friday, there were reports that the FBI had linked the men to Hamas, an extremist Palestinian group.

"The arrest says these guys are still at it - we haven't found a way to discourage the political use of terrorism," says Michael Dobkowski, an expert on terrorism and a professor at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, N.Y.

The latest alleged terrorist episode once again raises questions about the system that allows individuals to obtain visas to the United States, and further highlights the threat of terrorism in the US.

Revisiting the visa system

According to court documents, one of the men, Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, said in a request for political asylum that he had been previously arrested in Israel and accused of being a member of a known terrorist organization. News organizations claimed the FBI had linked Mr. Mezer and another of the men to Hamas.

"There should have been some cross checking," says Khalid Duran, editor of TransState Islam, a publication of the Institute for International Studies, an organization that specializes in terrorism and security issues.

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