The Blind Sheikh: A Flashpoint for Terror 20 Years After the World Trade Center Bombing
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On May 30, 2012 on the eve of the presidential election, Salem alerted me that the website maintained by Sheikh Omar’s family, issued a political fatwa from the imprisoned cleric endorsing Morsi’s election . In that admonition, the blind sheikh reminded “every Muslim and citizen of Egypt who fears about his country, that he or she must elect Dr. Mohammed Morsi, since he is the one representing Islam the most and representing the Revolution.”
For months prior to the election, followers of the Blind Sheikh had been camped outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, demanding his release. Now they were rallying in Tahrir Square. The day after Morsi’s narrow victory, Emad Salem discovered that Sheikh Omar, who is supposed to get a single, fifteen-minute “humanitarian” call to his family each month, was able to make a second call; this time congratulating the president-elect. Then, within days of his election, at a rally in front of Abdel Rahman’s family, Morsi returned the favor by declaring that he would press for the freedom of Sheikh Omar and other terrorists convicted in the United States.
After Morsi’s call for the Sheikh’s release, the issue became a cause célèbre on the U.S. political right. “U.S. State Dept. Considers Release of Blind Sheikh to Egypt” was the headline on Breitbart.com in September. Two days later, the New York Post ran a story referencing President Obama titled, “O Eyes ‘Blind Sheik’ Release: GOPers Blast Idea to Appease Egypt.”
In response, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that the Sheikh had been rightfully convicted and she emphatically denied that the United States had plans to extradite him. Just yesterday the Justice Department released this statement: “The blind Sheikh will spend the rest of his life in a U.S. federal prison. Period.”
But there’s little doubt that the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats, was tied to growing violence directly related to Abdel Rahman. By September 13, CNN reported that one group thought to be responsible was called “the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades.”
Rahman’s deadly influence as a rallying point for jihadists was reinforced on October 28th, 2012, when bin Laden’s successor, Dr. al-Zawahiri, issued a two-hour video calling on Muslims worldwide to kidnap westerners and “spare [no] efforts” to free Sheikh Omar. In January, the principal demand of the al Qaeda-linked Masked Brigade which staged the deadly Amenas Algerian kidnapping, was that the U.S. release Abdel Rahman and a second captive terrorist.
“What happened in New York two decades ago,” says Emad Salem, “is still causing blood to be spilled in the middle east and threatening U.S. security. The Sheikh is the prince of jihad and even from inside a prison cell he wields tremendous power.”
Containing the blind Sheikh
Few, outside the conservative wing of the GOP believe there is a chance that Abdel-Rahman, one of the most dangerous terrorists every convicted, will ever leave a U.S. prison, but there are valid concerns about the continuing influence he wields as an inmate. The significance of allowing him to communicate with his followers was underscored in 2005 with the conviction of Lynne F. Stewart his former lawyer.
Found guilty of conspiracy after messages from Abdel Rahman were smuggled to the Islamic Group following her visits to him in federal custody, Stewart was sentenced to twenty-eight months in Federal prison. Then in 2010, as a result of perjury at her trial and her lack of remorse, she was re-sentenced to ten years. The Second Circuit Court of appeals affirmed the sentence last June.