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LETTER OFFERS LOOK INTO TERRORIST MIND

Of all the questions being asked after the World Trade Center attack, there's one that may go unanswered: What motivates a terrorist to give up his own life by flying straight into a skyscraper?

The answer may have died with the people who hijacked those airplanes, but, more and more, it's clear that not even death, even certain death, is a deterrent for terrorists intent on making a political statement by killing innocent people.

In a rare glimpse into the mind of a terrorist, The Buffalo News earlier this year obtained a copy of a letter written by Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the Islamic terrorist convicted of masterminding the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

Yousef, who wrote the letter to a German woman, says that he was exuberant when he was sentenced to life in prison:

"My other co-defendants started crying after we went back to our cells . . . while I was laughing and dancing! The Gov. (government) sent my lawyer to visit me to see how I was doing the day I was found guilty.

"They also sent a psychologist to make sure I was not depressed enough to commit suicide. After I was visited by my lawyer, who reported back to the Gov. about my demeanor and seen by a psychologist, the Gov.'s conclusion was -- according to one of my defense lawyers -- that I am a 'beast!'

"Don't get me wrong. I was sad and depressed, but there is no problem or hardship in the world that can break me down to the level where I would cry or even stop smiling, and this drove the Gov. crazy."

Yousef, whose crimes were committed before the 1994 anti-terrorism act, which provides a death penalty, is serving a sentence of 240 years for the first bombing of the World Trade Center, in which six were killed and more than 1,000 injured, and for planning to bomb 12 jetliners to punish the United States for its support of Israel.

For former FBI agent Clinton R. Van Zandt, an expert on American terrorism, Yousef sounds more like a disgruntled American who claims he was framed rather than a hardened Middle East terrorist.

"That's normal U.S. jailhouse mentality that he has picked up. He's going to school, and you have to look at who his professors are -- the other inmates," he said.

Osama bin Laden, the Middle Eastern terrorist leader suspected in last week's attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., financed Yousef's bombing, a federal investigation had suggested.

Van Zandt, the lead FBI negotiator at Waco and now owner of a Virginia security firm that works with Fortune 500 companies, believes Tuesday's atrocities are the acts of bin Laden's operatives.

"There's nothing homegrown about this. This is not a bunch of pro-gun, anti-government survivalists from the Midwest," Van Zandt said.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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