World Trade Center bomber ‘Blind Sheikh’ dies in prison
Omar Abdel-Rahman, the fiery blind cleric who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, died Saturday in a North Carolina federal prison hospital where he was serving a life sentence for plotting terror.
The 78-year-old Islamist militant’s death was announced by his son and daughter in his native Egypt, and confirmed by spokesman Greg Norton at the Butner federal prison complex.
The sheik, who suffered from coronary heart disease and diabetes, died of natural causes, said Norton.
Known as “the Blind Sheik,” Abdel-Rahman was born to a merchant in a village in the Nile delta.
Diabetes had rendered him blind from infancy.
He was convicted in 1996 of planning “a war of urban terrorism,” targeting city landmarks including the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, the United Nations, the George Washington Bridge and FBI headquarters in Manhattan.
Although he was not convicted of the car-bomb attack on the World Trade Center that killed six and injured 1,000 in February 1993, Abdel-Rahman and nine other co-conspirators were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, which covers the planning of crimes.
His intent, prosecutors said, was to turn the United States against Israel and Egypt.
The judge at his trial said if the sheik’s plans to bomb New York’s bridges and tunnels had gone forward, thousands of people would have died.
At his 1996 sentencing, the sheik vowed to destroy the United States.
“America will go and be withered and this civilization will be destroyed,” he said.
“Nothing will remain. We will not kneel.”
Abdel-Rahman, who is considered the spiritual leader of the militant Egyptian movement Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, was also behind various violent attacks in Egypt.
He issued a fatwa that resulted in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 by Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He was eventually acquitted of Sadat’s murder.
Expelled from Egypt, he made his way to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
There, he joined the mujahideen crusade against Russian forces, and befriended other Islamist radicals, including al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Later, he traveled to New York on a tourist visa and managed to secure a green card, despite being on a terrorist watch list.
In the United States, the charismatic leader preached to thousands at mosques in Brooklyn and New Jersey.
He called on his followers in rambling monologues to rob banks to finance holy war or jihad, and to murder Jews.
The sheik memorized a Braille version of the Koran by the time he was 11.
He went on to study at Cairo University’s School of Theology, and became a prominent and fiery critic of secularism in Egypt.
Abdel-Rahman had two wives and 10 children.
One of his sons, Asim, became a close associate of bin Laden.