Monday, February 20, 2017

A00087 - Omar 'Abdel Rahman, "Radical" Egyptian Cleric

'Abdel Rahman, Omar
'Abdel Rahman, Omar (Omar 'Abdel Rahman) (Omar Ahmed 'Ali 'Abdel Rahman) ('Umar 'Abd al-Rahman) (b. May 3, 1938, Al Gammaliyyah, Dakahlia Governorate, Egypt - d. February 18, 2017, Granville County, North Carolina).  An Egyptian religious scholar and an Islamic fundamentalist leader.  Born to a poor rural family in the village of al-Jamaliyah in Lower Egypt, Omar Ahmed 'Ali 'Abdel Rahman was accidentally blinded at ten months of age.  He studied a Braille version of the Qur'an as a child and developed an interest in the works of the Islamic purists.  He received a traditional religious education in regional urban centers, memorizing the Qur’an.  In 1960, he entered the faculty of Fundamentals of Religion at al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he graduated first in his class in 1965.  Although he had hoped to become a teaching assistant at the university, he was appointed by the state as a mosque preacher in a poor rural village in the Fayyum, Upper Egypt.  He soon returned to al-Azhar, however, obtaining a master’s degree in 1967 and a faculty appointment in 1968.  He continued both his graduate studies and occasional preaching in the Fayyum.

'Abdel Rahman made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1968 and there met Sa‘id Ramadan, an expatriate leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who opposed the government of Gamal 'Abdel Nasser.  Ramadan persuaded him to transport funds back to Egypt for the families of jailed brotherhood members.  'Abdel Rahman was arrested in the process and, although he was soon released, he lost his faculty position.  He was appointed to a bureaucratic post later in 1969, but he saw this as a shameful demotion.

'Abdel Rahman continued to preach in the Fayyum.  At a public ceremony after Nasser’s death on September 28, 1970, he condemned Nasser as an infidel and prohibited prayers for him.  As a consequence, he was detained by the government for eight months.

The new regime of Anwar el-Sadat declared an amnesty for jailed Islamic fundamentalists with the aim of enlisting them as a counterweight to leftist forces.  'Abdel Rahman was re-appointed as a teaching assistant at the Azhari Institute in Fayyum, but he was still the subject of controversy among university administrators.  After completing his doctorate in 1972, he briefly held a professorship at al-Azhar before being transferred to the religious faculty in Asyut, a center of Islamic fundamentalist activity.  Both the regional and national governments supported the establishment there of the Jama‘ah (Jama'at) al-Islamiyah ("The Islamic Group"), the Muslim Brotherhood’s student organization, to which 'Abdel Rahman was strongly sympathetic.

In 1977, 'Abdel Rahman married ‘Isha’ Hasan Judah, the daughter of a brotherhood member, and left Egypt to spend four years in Saudi Arabia as a professor of Qur’anic interpretation at Saud University.  Soon after his return, he was arrested for his involvement in the fundamentalist Jihad Organization accused of assassinating President Sadat.  He was accused of leading the organization and of participating in the assassination but was acquitted on both counts and released in 1984.

While he was imprisoned in the Egyptian jails, 'Abdel Rahman was severely tortured as he awaited trial on charges of issuing a fatwa resulting in Sadat's assassination by Egyptian Islamic Jihad.  Although 'Abdel Rahman was not convicted of conspiracy in the Sadat assassination, he was expelled from Egypt following his acquittal.  

During this protracted trial (1981-1984), three factors led to 'Abdel Rahman’s emergence as the leading figure in his Islamist movement.  The first was his book Mithaq al-‘amil al-Islami (“Charter of Islamic Action”), an explanation of his view of correct Islamic life.  It marked his departure from the more moderate wing of the brotherhood and affiliation with the radical forces informed by the concept of jihad and the necessity to overthrow the secular state in order to restore the principles of the Qur’an.  Second, he married again, this time to Fatin Shu‘ayb, a kinswoman of several important activists, affirming his solidarity with the Jama‘ah al-Islamiyah in Upper Egypt and lending weight to his religious status as mufti al-jihad.  Third, most of the major leaders of the jihad organization were executed or imprisoned for life, leaving a power vacuum that 'Abdel Rahman readily filled.

During the decade that followed, 'Abdel Rahman came to be portrayed by his political opponents and the media as the high priest of radical fundamentalism both in and outside Egypt.  After leaving Egypt, he made his way to Afghanistan in the mid-1980s where he contacted his former professor, 'Abdullah Azzam, co-founder of Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) along with Osama bin Laden.  'Abdel Rahman built a strong rapport with bin Laden during the Afghan war against the Soviets, and following Azzam's murder in 1989, 'Abdel Rahman assumed control of the international jihadists arm of MAK/Al Qaeda.  

In July 1990, 'Abdel Rahman emigrated to New York City in the United States to gain control of MAK's financial and organizational infrastructure in the United States.  He was issued a tourist visa to visit the United States despite his name being listed on a United States State Department terrorist watch list.  Rahman entered the United States via Saudi Arabia, Peshawar, and Sudan.

'Abdel Rahman traveled widely in the United States and Canada.  Despite the United States support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan, 'Abdel Rahman was deeply anti-American and spoke out against America, safe in the knowledge that he was speaking Arabic and was unmonitored by any law enforcement agency.  He issued a fatwa in the United States that declared lawful the robbing of banks and killing of Jews in America.  His sermons condemned Americans and called on Muslims to assail the West.

In March 1992, 'Abdel Rahman was stripped of his green card and was subsequently summoned to a federal hearing on charges that he lied on his visa application.  An INS administrative judge ordered that 'Abdel Rahman be deported from the United States, but 'Abdel Rahman successfully fought the deportation ruling.

Preaching at three mosques in the New York City area, 'Abdel-Rahman was soon surrounded by a core group of devoted followers that included persons who became responsible for the World Trade Center bombings in 1993.  The 1993 bombing utilized a powerful car bomb and was detonated at New York's World Trade Center.  Six people were killed and more than a thousand were wounded.  'Abdel Rahman had intended to cause the bombed tower to fall onto its twin, causing both towers to collapse and killing tens of thousands.

After the first World Trade Center bombing in February 1993, the FBI began to investigate 'Abdel Rahman and his followers more closely.  With the assistance of an Egyptian informant wearing a listening device, the FBI managed to record Rahman issuing a fatwa encouraging acts of violence against United States civilian targets, particularly in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area.  

The most startling plan, the government charged, was to set off five bombs in ten minutes, blowing up the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and a federal building housing the FBI.  Government prosecutors showed videotapes of defendants mixing bomb ingredients in a garage before their arrest in 1993.  'Abdel Rahman was arrested on June 24, 1993, along with nine of his followers.  On October 1, 1995, he was convicted of seditious conspiracy, and in 1996 was sentenced to life in prison. 
Abdel-Rahman began serving his life sentence at the FMC Rochester in Minnesota. After the September 11 attacks,  he was transferred to the FMC Butner in North Carolina. He died there on February 18, 2017 at the age of 78 due to complications from diabetes and coronary arterial disease.

One of Rahman's followers, El Sayyid Nosair, was also linked to the 1990 assassination of Israeli nationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the militant Jewish Defense League.  Nosair was subsequently acquitted of murder but was convicted on gun possession charges. Nosair later stood trial as a co-conspirator of Rahman.  Both men received life sentences for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
After 1993, 'Abdel Rahman became, in fact, the acknowledged spiritual guide of the Jama‘ah al-Islamiyah, and he assumed great importance to radical Islamists in much of the Muslim world.  His imprisonment became a rallying point for Islamic militants around the world, including Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  In 1997, members of his group Jama'ah al-Islamiyah conducted two attacks against European visitors to Egypt, including the massacre of 58 tourists at Deir el-Bahri in Luxor.  In addition to killing women and children, the attackers mutilated a number of bodies and distributed leaflets throughout the scene demanding the release of 'Abdel Rahman.

In 2005, members of Rahman's legal team were convicted of facilitating communication between the imprisoned 'Abdel Rahman and members of Jama'ah al-Islamiyah in Egypt.  As for 'Abdel Rahman, he was incarcerated at the Butner Medical Center which is part of the Butner Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina, United States.  

‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman see 'Abdel Rahman, Omar
Omar Ahmed 'Ali 'Abdel Rahman see 'Abdel Rahman, Omar
Omar 'Abdel Rahman see 'Abdel Rahman, Omar

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