Why Did They Have to Try Bin Laden's Pals in New York?

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New Yorkers expect to read about Osama Bin Laden in the World section of the Times; not in the Metro section. Yet there he is, day after day, making headlines as the absent bad-guy star of an unprecedented terrorism trial unfolding in Lower Manhattan's Federal Court Building. And that makes some Manhattan residents — including this one — a little nervous. After all, if everything the indictment says about Bin Laden's Al Qaeda group is true, then this is one faith-based organization you definitely don't want to get on the wrong side of. And as the World Trade Center bombing reminded us, New York is the quintessential symbol of everything American to the rest of the world, and therefore a prime target of those looking to hurt the U.S. (and that's before someone selected downtown Gotham as the venue for the first-ever trial of Bin Laden associates on U.S. soil). After all, they're foreign nationals who are charged with attacking U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam — what does any of this have to do with New York?

Oy. With some 8 million people crammed into 10 square miles every day, Manhattan offers the indiscriminate terrorist literally dozens of targets where loss of innocent life could be maximized. And it's a safe bet that it will at least have crossed the minds of some Bin Laden associates — or even simply fans — to make their own homicidal statement about the trial in these parts. Worse still, the New York metropolitan area has actually been a theater of operations of some of these guys. The core component of Bin Laden's networks, remember, are veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, some of them recruited locally. Some of the defendants and plea-bargain witnesses in both World Trade Center bombing trials, as well as the current trial, have previously lived and worked in Brooklyn and nearby parts of New Jersey.

In fact, the reason the current trial is being held in New York is because of the World Trade Center connection. The current indictments against the four men accused of being part of a Bin Laden conspiracy to attack U.S. targets worldwide originate with the New York office of the FBI and the local U.S. attorney's office, both of which had been investigating Bin Laden for years because of his relationships with some of the people involved in the World Trade Center trials. Although Bin Laden isn't believed to have had any connection with that attack, its mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, subsequently made contact with the Saudi financier and had been working with his associates on a plot to blow up U.S. airliners in the Philippines. And the blind Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, jailed for his part in the World Trade Center conspiracy, is considered an influential figure in Bin Laden's movement.

Prosecutorial experience may not be the only argument for basing the trial here. In fact, the city's efforts since the World Trade Center bombing have seen it evolve some of the most advanced counterterrorism security structures in the country. And, of course, the fact that some of these Bin Laden–aligned groups may have been operating here over the years also means that the various law enforcement agencies involved have a lot more snitches to rely on than they might have in another center. Still, for the sake of those of us who ride the subway to work, could you make the next one in Washington, D.C., please?

With reporting by Elaine Shannon