The Blind Sheikh: A Flashpoint for Terror 20 Years After the World Trade Center Bombing
February 26th, 2013, the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing, which killed six and injured a thousand, may be the latest proof of George Santayana’s prediction that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Why? Because Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric convicted as the leader of that bombing cell, continues to inspire acts of terror throughout the middle east, including the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last September and the January Algerian hostage crisis — both directly linked to demands by Islamic radicals to “free the blind Sheikh.”
Indeed, new evidence was uncovered last summer by ex-FBI asset Emad Salem, proving that Abdel-Rahman, now 74 and serving a life sentence in a North Carolina federal prison, was able to issue a fatwa that helped propel Egyptian Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi to victory – a bit of prison-cell electioneering that prompted an immediate quid pro quo by Morsi demanding Abdel-Rahman’s release.
That set off a firestorm of unwanted fears on the U.S. right that the Obama administration would be naïve enough to extradite Sheikh Omar, the head of al-Gamma Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) one of the world’s most virulent terrorist organizations; responsible for the bloody 1997 Luxor massacre in which fifty-eight tourists and four Egyptians were murdered.
Still, in the bickering that turned the Sheik’s purported exit into a rallying point for Obama bashers, the full significance of Abdel-Rahman as a flashpoint for global terror has been lost. Further, the failure by administration officials and critics to appreciate his key role in the ongoing jihad could have deadly consequences in the future. Today’s anniversary of the Twin Towers bombing is an opportunity for us to answer the question: just how dangerous is the blind Sheikh?
The Prince of Jihad
Blinded shortly after birth, Abdel-Rahman had memorized the Koran by the age of eleven. He earned a degree in Koranic studies in 1972 from the Al Azhar University in Cairo, where he was influenced by the writings Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian intellectual who was an ardent member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928, The Brotherhood spawned two of Egypt’s most violent terror sects: The Islamic Group run by Sheikh Omar, and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad led by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Both Abdel-Rahman and al-Zawahiri were jailed following the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat and by separate routes, the two of then found their way to Afghanistan; al-Zawahiri aligning with Osama bin Laden to form al Qaeda in 1988 and Sheikh Omar connecting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord and future Taliban commander who became one of the conduits for the billions in U.S. covert military aid to the Mujahedeen. On his return to Egypt in 1990, the blind Sheikh was subjected to house arrest, but he escaped to the Sudan and despite his presence on multiple watch-lists, succeeded in entering the U.S. in July, thanks, some say, to help from the CIA for his aid in the secret Afghan arms campaign.
Before long, Abdel Rahman was preaching at the al Farooq mosque in Brooklyn and the ironically named al-Salaam (mosque of peace) located on the third floor of a building on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City. He was soon linked directly to two violent homicides.
The first blood
On November 5, 1991, one of Abdel-Rahman’s devoted followers, an Egyptian emigré named El Sayyid Nosair, committed what was arguably the first act of violence by al Qaeda on U.S. soil – the bloody assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of The Jewish Defense League.