WASHINGTON — Three Lebanese-born Canadians awaiting sentencing in Vermont for smuggling a bomb into the United States belong to a Syrian terrorist group that murdered Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982 and that later committed a series of deadly car bombings, the government said Tuesday.
The allegation, contained in an affidavit submitted by the FBI to U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vt., was designed to support the government's recommendation that the three men be sentenced to the maximum terms allowable.
Spotted on Railroad Tracks
The men--Walid Kabbani, Georges Younan and Walid Mourad--were arrested on Oct. 23 after a Vermont police chief saw Kabbani walking along a railroad track near the Canadian border carrying a black bag, which was found to contain a bomb.
It was the first known arrest of alleged Middle East terrorists carrying explosives in the United States.
In the affidavit, the FBI said that it does not know the men's specific targets in this country, but it asserted that their activities "clearly point to an intent to harm life or property."
Mourad, who pleaded guilty on Jan. 26 to conspiring to transport explosives and to an immigration violation, faces a maximum 10-year sentence. Kabbani and Younan were convicted by a jury of several explosives violations and an immigration violation. Younan could be sentenced to 35 years and Kabbani to 30 years and six months.
They will be sentenced "in the near future," a Justice Department official said.
Feared Tainting Trial
In Burlington, U.S. Atty. George Terwilliger said in a statement that he learned within 48 hours of the arrests that the three were members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party but did not disclose the association in order to avoid "any possible taint . . . that premature disclosure" might have caused at the trial.
Attorneys for the convicted men were angered by the government allegations and surprised by their disclosure. Richard C. Shadyac, a Washington lawyer who represented Mourad, called the charges "prejudicial crap" that was not introduced during the trial because government lawyers knew "they couldn't get it in. That's strictly speculation, surmise and conjecture. It's sickening."
In Burlington, Mark Keller, Kabbani's attorney, said he wants to see "some factual basis" for the government's allegations. Both lawyers vowed to press for proof during the sentencing.
Kabbani and Younan did not testify at their trial.
Floyd I. Clarke, assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division, said in his affidavit that the information linking the three men to the terrorist group was developed "through various independent channels," adding that disclosing the channels "would irreparably impair the investigative capabilities of the FBI" in regard to this and similar cases.
Bomb Found in Bag
The men, all said to be in the textile business in Montreal, were arrested in Richford, Vt. After being stopped for questioning, Kabbani gave the police chief an unsatisfactory explanation for walking along the railroad track. After a brief search of the area, the officer found a black bag that Kabbani had been seen carrying. It held two cylinders containing three pounds of smokeless gunpowder and a bottle with wires dangling from it.
The next day, Mourad and Younan were arrested outside a local motel. Authorities alleged that they were there to pick up Kabbani after he had hiked over the border with the bomb. Officials said that, when an identical bomb was built and tested by the FBI, it blew two steel plates weighing 50 pounds apiece more than 100 yards through the air.
"Based on the information known by the FBI, it is our judgment that the crimes committed by the defendants in Vermont were undertaken in furtherance of the defendants' (Syrian Social Nationalist Party) activities," Clarke wrote.
The affidavit said that the terrorist group was responsible for seven car bombings in Lebanon in 1985 and 1986, killing 105 people and injuring 378. The targets were mostly Israeli or South Lebanese army personnel.
The Lebanese-based group was founded in the 1930s, modeled after German and Italian fascist organizations of that era, according to the FBI. Its aim at that time was to unite Middle East people of common ancestry into a "greater Syria."
Officials said the group reached a peak of 40,000 "fighters" during the 1940s and 1950s but has since dwindled to an unknown number.
Terwilliger, citing the group's participation in "indiscriminate bombings, political assassinations and other similar acts of violence," said: "What this case is about is an attempt to import those techniques" into this country."
In urging stiff sentences to send a message to potential terrorists, he said the prison terms "should show clearly and unambiguously that such acts will simply not be tolerated in the United States."