Egypt’s President-elect Mohammed Morsi pledges to work to spring terror leader Omar Abdel-Rahman from a U.S. prison

Jun 30, 2012 Issues: Counterterrorism

The 'Blind Sheik' is imprisoned for plotting to blow up five New York landmarks in a series of follow-up attacks to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing

NY Daily News - by Joseph Straw

WASHINGTON — Egypt’s incoming president made an outlandish but troubling pledge Friday to push for the release of a blind sheik imprisoned in the U.S. for a plot to blow up five New York landmarks.

Omar Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader to the men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is rotting in a North Carolina federal prison hospital for the scheme of simultaneous follow-up bombings that could have killed thousands.

Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist politician whose election was made official Sunday, issued the promise while speaking in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, before a crowd composed mainly of fellow Islamists.

“I will do my best to free all detainees, including Dr. Omar Abdel-Rahman,” he said, pointing to people in the crowd who held up a poster of the convicted plotter.

Abdel-Rahman’s backers argue he should be repatriated to Egypt on humanitarian grounds — but U.S. elected officials said Morsi won’t succeed in such a quest.

Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Abdel-Rahman isn’t going anywhere.

King voiced concern over what Morsi’s remarks say about his ideology and judgment — and about the new regime in Cairo.

“Beginning his presidency by saying that he’s going to free the Blind Sheikh is despicable,” King said.

“The U.S. has to face up to the reality that he can’t be trusted,” King added. “He’s an Islamist; he’s a radical.”

Morsi is scheduled to be sworn in Saturday. His Freedom and Justice Party, a political arm of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, cruised to victory in national elections brought on by the progressive Arab Spring and its ouster of Egypt’s longtime leader, hard-line U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

Experts and elected officials worried that Morsi’s statement signaled that the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt may have yielded a leader with a lack of respect for America and its laws.

“This statement about freeing Omar Abdel-Rahman is not only outrageous, it is cause for deep concern about Mohammed Morsi’s respect for the rule of law and democracy,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

“Any attempt to free this convicted terrorist must be met with swift condemnation.”

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The diabetic, 74-year-old sheikh, a former head of terror outfit Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, was thrown out of Egypt after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

Abdel-Rahman moved to Afghanistan, helping to sow the insurgency against the Soviets and palling around with Osama Bin Laden. He moved to New York in 1990.

The landmarks his plot targeted were the U.N. headquarters, the George Washington Bridge, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, and the FBI’s New York field office. Evidence also showed that he and his plotters mulled trying to assassinate Brooklyn native and then-U.S. Sen. Alphonse D’Amato. The sheik also wanted to take out Mubarak.

Morsi himself was jailed by Mubarak during last year’s popular uprising. Now the ex-president is serving a life sentence in an Egyptian prison for failing to stop violence against demonstrators.