NEW YORK, Oct 27 (Reuters) A Syrian man on trial for giving a false tip to a New York City anti-terrorism hotline never meant to cause public alarm and believed that his identity would be kept secret, his lawyer said.
Sending him to prison could have a chilling effect on other New Yorkers who wish to report suspicious activity to law enforcement, lawyer Michael Soshnick told a 12-person jury yesterday during opening arguments at New York State Court.
''Because he cared to make the phone call, he's now here on trial,'' Soshnick said.
In May 2006 Rimon Alkatri, 34, telephoned New York City's general information hotline to offer a tip about five Syrian men who were planning a suicide attack on New York City subways over the July 4 holiday weekend, according to a recording of the conversation played in court by prosecutors.
Police later learned that four of the five men implicated by Alkatri were former business associates of his in the jewelry industry with whom he had disputes.
City officials responded to the tip by dispatching dozens of police, conducting round-the-clock surveillance and seeking help from Israeli law enforcement, prosecutors said.
The men named in the plot were subjected to intensive police questioning, and their homes and offices were searched with bomb-sniffing dogs, prosecutors said.
Alkatri, a Syrian-born Jew, identified himself in the call as Jose Rodriguez, an Israeli. He believed that the call was private and confidential, Soshnick said.
''He did not walk up to a police officer and say, there's a bomb on the F train and it's going to go off in an hour,'' said Soshnick.
The investigation found no evidence supporting Alkatri's tip and did not inform the public about the incident until after Alkatri's arrest.
But Assistant District Attorney Barry Ginsberg said that Alkatri used the phrases ''Arab people'' and ''Allah Akbar'' to ensure a strong reaction from police.
If convicted, Alkatri faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years and could end up behind bars for seven years. He will also face deportation proceedings.
REUTERS SZ PM0456