The New York Times has a report this morning about the pledge by Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, to work for the release from U.S. prison and repatriation to Egypt of Omar Abdel Rahman, better known to Americans as “the Blind Sheikh.” The report can be read here.
Because I was the lead prosecutor at the Blind Sheikh’s 1995 terrorism trial, the Times asked me for information about the case and to make a statement about Mr. Morsi’s vow to seek Abdel Rahman’s release. Here is some background information — much of which I provided to the Times yesterday, have provided to the Times in various interviews over the years, and have written about extensively, particularly at National Review and in my book about the case, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.
Abdel Rahman is serving a life sentence for terrorism convictions arising out of his formation of a terrorist cell that operated in the New York metropolitan area from the late Eighties through spring 1993. That cell bombed the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. It was, in addition, responsible for the murder of JDL-founder Meir Kahane in 1990, plots to kill then–Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and a plot to conduct simultaneous bombings of New York City landmarks — primarily, the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and the United Nations complex, with additional targets, such as the FBI’s lower Manhattan headquarters, the George Washington Bridge, and U.S. armories, also contemplated. Abdel Rahman, moreover, urged his followers to bomb American military installations, citing as the example most worth emulating: Hezbollah’s 1983 bombing of the U.S. barracks in Lebanon, in which 241members of our armed forces were killed, 220 Marines, 18 Navy, and 3 Army.
Abdel Rahman rooted his terrorist commands in Islamic scripture and jurisprudence, subjects on which he is an internationally renowned authority. That, indeed, is the sole source of his influence — which is profound — over the global jihadist movement; his blindness and various other ailments render him unable to perform physical acts that would be of any use to a terrorist organization. Blind since childhood, Abdel Rahman is a prodigy who memorized the Koran in his early youth. He eventually graduated from from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the seat of Sunni Islamic learning, with a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence.
Following the trial at which he and several of his fellow jihadists were convicted, Abdel Rahman issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans, civilian and military, wherever they could be found, and to conduct terrorist attacks against our military assets, embassies, and civilian infrastructure. Following the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden publicly credited this fatwa as the sharia justification required under jihadist protocols to carry out the operation.
The Blind Sheikh has, for decades, been the emir, or leader, of Gama’at al-Islamia, the Islamic Group, the Egyptian terrorist organization that carried out the 1981 murder of President Anwar Sadat after Sadat made peace with Israel. Abdel Rahman brags about having issued the fatwa for that murder, although he was acquitted at his trial. (Abdel Rahman used a nullification defense, arguing that because Sadat failed to rule by sharia, devout Muslims had a duty to remove him.)
In 1997, following the Blind Sheikh’s U.S. terrorism convictions, the Islamic Group carried out a brutal massacre in Luxor, Egypt, in which 62 tourists and police were killed. The jihadists left behind leaflets promising there would be more such attacks if the Blind Sheikh were not released — and there have, indeed, been several others, though none as atrocious. In 1998, the Islamic Group signed on to the declaration of war against the United States issued by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The Islamic Group is formally designated as a foreign terrorist organization under federal law, meaning it is a felony to provide it with material support. In 2005, the Justice Department convicted the Blind Sheikh’s attorney, Lynne Stewart, of material support for passing instructions from her client to the Islamic Group.
Nevertheless, as detailed here a few days back, the Obama administration issued a visa to Hani Nour Eldin, a member of the Islamic Group, and then hosted him for talks in Washington. Eldin accompanied a contingent of other members of Egypt’s new Islamist government — which is led by the Muslim Brotherhood and in which the Islamic Group is a coalition partner. Topping Eldin’s agenda, reportedly, was to petition the administration to release the Blind Sheikh. The Obama administration has since stonewalled when pressed by members of Congress and the media to explain why and how it came to issue a visa and play host to a member of a designated terrorist organization given that providing assistance to such organizations is a serious federal crime.
In the interview yesterday, I provided the Times with a number of these details. I was also asked to give a statement, though I was not promised that my statement would appear in the paper’s report. It did not appear in the report, but here is what I told the reporter:
The Obama administration recently issued a visa to, and hosted in Washington, a member of the Blind Sheikh’s Islamic Group. This was done despite the IG’s formal designation as a foreign terrorist organization to which it is a federal crime to provide material support, and despite the fact that the IG signed al-Qaeda’s 1998 declaration of war against the United States. With President Obama sending these signals, it is no surprise that Egypt’s new Islamist president-elect would seek to capitalize on them.