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Blind sheik terrorist will stay in US prison, White House says

Hai Do / AFP - Getty Images file

Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind spiritual leader of Egypt's largest Islamic extremist fundamentalist group, Jamaa Islamiyya, in an April 6, 1993, file photo. Abdul Rahman was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison for helping to plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The blind sheik who supported the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other terror plots that targeted New York landmarks will stay in a U.S. prison, Obama administration officials said Tuesday.  

"There is absolutely no plan to release or transfer the blind  sheik,” said National Security Staff spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. "Reports saying otherwise are completely and unequivocally false."

The strong denial came after some Republicans raised concerns that Egyptian leaders may be pressing the Obama administration to free Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.  


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Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey raised concerns in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Mukasey claimed there is circumstantial evidence a secret deal is under way as a goodwill gesture to the new Egyptian government. 


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Mukasey added it may be time for Congress to make clear that any such release would be a "gross betrayal of public trust that would justify removal from high office."

Abdul Rahman is currently serving a life sentence in a federal prison hospital in North Carolina. He was convicted in 1995 for his role in supporting a plot to bomb the United Nations, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and assassinate then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., and current Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-N.Y. 

A Justice Department spokesman said Tuesday, "The blind sheik will serve the rest of his life in a federal prison serving time for terrorism … and those who suggest otherwise are badly misinformed."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., sent a letter earlier this month to the State and Justice departments saying such a release would be "a sign of weakness and a lack of resolve by the United States and its president."
  
On the day he was set to take office in June, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi told a cheering crowd in Cairo that he would press the Obama administration to free the blind sheik.
  
"“I see signs for Omar Abdel Rahman and detainees pictures," Morsi said. "It is my duty and I will make all efforts to have them free, including Omar Abdel Rahman." 
 
New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, condemned Morsi comments at the time. 

"Sheik Rahman is a terrorist who planned to kill innocent Americans. Rest assured he will stay right where he belongs -- in jail for the rest of his life," Schumer said in June.

Gillibrand reiterated on Tuesday that any move to release the sheik would trigger a firestorm of opposition.

“If there is any attempt in the future to free this convicted terrorist it will be met with swift condemnation and action to stop it,” she said.

Reports of Egyptian calls to free Sheik Rahman come three years after Scottish authorities set free a Libyan terrorist convicted for killing 270 people in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who died in May, sparked outrage among the victims’ families.  

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