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Prison mum on Yousef


Justice Department officials were tight-lipped on Tuesday over the status of Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center who has called the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. home for the past three years.

Mark Collins, executive assistant to the warden, refused to say whether Yousef, widely considered to be an Iraqi intelligence agent and one of the most dangerous criminals behind bars, would be questioned about the latest terrorist attacks. He also declined to comment on whether the prison had upped its internal security.

"We've been directed that we can't talk about anything at the institutional level for security reasons," Collins said, referring all questions to the Justice Department in Washington.

However, on Tuesday, the public affairs division at the Justice Department had been evacuated, and the building closed for security reasons. Rich Walsh, a watch officer at the Justice Department's command center where calls were referred, also refused to answer any questions regarding Yousef, and insisted that the closed public affairs department be contacted for information.

On Feb. 26, 1993, Yousef led a group of other revolutionaries in a plot to blow up the World Trade Center with a homemade bomb. Six people were killed and thousands injured in the explosion, but the building was not destroyed, as Yousef had intended.

Two years later, Yousef was involved in another bombing plot to blow up 11 U.S. commercial aircraft during a single day of terror. However, while mixing up a chemical brew in his Manila apartment, Yousef started a fire and was reportedly forced to flee, leaving behind a computer with details of the plot. He was arrested the following month in Pakistan and has since been sentenced to 240 years in prison.

On Tuesday, a Newsweek article recounted an exchange between Yousef and an FBI agent who was escorting him by helicopter to Manhattan for his trial six years ago. The agent momentarily loosened Yousef's blindfold and pointed out the World Trade Center as the twin towers defined the skyline.

"See, you didn't get them after all," the agent said to Yousef.

"Not yet," Yousef reportedly replied.

Now at the country's highest security federal prison in Florence, 45 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, Yousef has most recently made the news for his camaraderie with fellow bombers and cell block-mates Timothy McVeigh, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski -- and convicted Latin Kings gang leader Luis Felipe.

Until Oklahoma City bomber McVeigh was executed earlier this year, the four men reportedly held kaffeklatches of sorts, communicating by yelling through the thick walls of their cells and having conversations during their one-hour exercise sessions in enclosed wire cages outside the prison walls.

"It's like having the Wolfman and Dracula and Frankenstein all in the same wing," journalist and McVeigh chronicler Dan Herbeck was quoted saying in a June Court TV article.

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