NEW YORK — As dozens of police manned barricades outside the U.S. Courthouse here, a federal judge began the arduous task Tuesday of choosing a jury in the trial of four men accused in the Feb. 26 bombing of Manhattan's World Trade Center.
U.S. District Judge Kevin T. Duffy told prospective jurors that he would try to keep their identities secret throughout the estimated 12 to 16 weeks of testimony.
The judge plans to screen about 150 people a day to assemble a final pool from which the 12-member panel and six alternates will be chosen--a process that could take as long as a month. Five thousand prospective jurors have been summoned to the courthouse, a number believed to be the largest for any trial in New York history.
The defendants--Mohammed A. Salameh, Mohammad Ahmad Ajaj, Mahmud Abouhalima and Nidal Ayyad--are charged in a 13-count indictment with conspiring to bomb a building used in interstate commerce, causing deaths and injuries and transporting explosives across the New York-New Jersey state line. If convicted, they face a maximum punishment of life in prison.
The government has charged that the bombing was part of a larger conspiracy in which 15 others, including Muslim Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, also plotted to blow up the United Nations and New York commuter tunnels and sought to assassinate U.S. and foreign leaders. The larger group will stand trial early next year.