The Blind Sheikh: A Flashpoint for Terror 20 Years After the World Trade Center Bombing
Continued from previous page
That begs the question of how the two “bin Laden offices of origin” — the FBI’s NYO and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) — could have failed to connect those dots; two of which bore a direct connection to Sheikh Omar.
As far back as November, 2006 with the publication of my latest book from HarperCollins, TRIPLE CROSS, I made the argument that if the Feds had only devoted a small portion of the resources they spent trying to “get” John Gotti, and monitored Sphinx Trading, they would have been in the middle of the 9/11 plot two months before al-Midhar and al-Hazmi slammed into The Pentagon.
It’s a question that takes on new significance when one considers the other iconic acts of terror committed in his name since the 1993 bridge and tunnel plot.
A rallying point for jihadis
Beginning in 1996, the FBI received the first of three warnings that bin Laden would attempt to hijack a plane to free the Sheikh. When al-Qaeda took credit for the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Sheikh Omar’s release was one of their demands. Weeks before the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000, al-Zawahiri and bin Laden appeared in a video fatwa, demanding that the Sheikh be set free.
Another plot to release him was cited in that infamous Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) sent to George Bush in August 2011, and just days before the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban government in Kabul was rumored to be offering a swap — the group of eight Western aid workers being held captive, for the Blind Sheikh. As late as April 22, 2005, in entering a plea, Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “twentieth hijacker,” declared that his goal in the aborted plan to fly a plane into the White House, was to free Omar Abdel Rahman.
Meanwhile, the blind cleric, in federal prison since 1993, has demonstrated extraordinary staying power. In December 2006, while in custody at the U.S. Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, Rahman then sixty-eight, was diagnosed with a tumor on his liver and rushed to an area hospital after spitting up blood. It was believed at the time that he was near death and the FBI issued a bulletin warning that the Sheikh’s last will and testament, distributed by al-Qaeda, had exhorted his followers to “extract the most violent revenge” after he died.
Then, exhibiting a kind of Rasputin-like resilience, Rahman not only pulled through, but began to thrive. He was eventually moved to the Federal Medical Center at Butner, North Carolina, where his continuing influence on world events became clear in the summer of 2012.
Impacting the Egyptian election
In 2009 following a lecture I gave at NYU, Emad Salem, the ex-Egyptian Army officer who infiltrated the blind Sheikh’s cell for the FBI in 1992 reached out to me after years in witness protection. Salem and his family had been in hiding for 14 years after he’d served as the principal witness against the Sheikh in the “Day of Terror” trial.
During a series of interviews Salem told me about a key piece of evidence in the Mustafa Shalabi homicide that had never surfaced in the media. That prompted the NYPD to reopen the investigation. As a result, the Feds produced a series of FBI 302 memos identifying the killers, along with a second gunman in the Kahane assassination. Since then, while continuing to live under an assumed identity, Salem has regularly monitored the political events in Egypt.