While mourning Omar Abdel-Rahman – who died in his prison cell in the United States – some try to depict him as a persecuted hero and an innocent victim. Abdel-Rahman is anything but that as he is the one who came up with the concept of modern day terrorism. His incitement to terror and violence preceded al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Abdel-Rahman is probably the only one who spent his youth, grew up and died while believing in violence. He has lived as a conspirator and instigator since the days of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. He is the only one whom they agreed to make accusations against and imprison him.
Blindness is not lack of sight but lack of insight. Many thought the blind sheikh cannot be an evil member of terrorist organizations. However, all security institutions, which dealt with him, agree that he is among the most dangerous men they have encountered. He has been an extremist since 1963 when he was a student at Al-Azhar as he was influenced by Sayyed Qutb and his extremist ideology.
Abdel-Rahman was later suspended from Al-Azhar and was arrested on incitement charges during the last days of Abdel Nasser’s reign. When President Anwar al-Sadat assumed power, he released him and thousands of others Islamists and allowed Abdel-Rahman to return to Al-Azhar. However, Abdel-Rahman betrayed Sadat and issued a fatwa (religious edict) to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya sanctioning it to kill the president.
He was imprisoned after the assassination of Sadat and President Hosni Mubarak later pardoned him. He then left Egypt for Sudan, which was a passage to all major terrorists. He joined fighters in Afghanistan with Bin Laden and Zawahiri where he acted as their mufti and inspired young fighters.
Many thought the blind sheikh cannot be an evil member of terrorist organizations. However, all security institutions, which dealt with him, agree that he is among the most dangerous men they have encounteredAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The US green card
The Americans repeated Sadat’s mistake and granted him a visa to enter the US. Moreover, they trusted him. While in the US, he visited three mosques in New York and incited them against the American government. When the US Department of State requested cancellation of his visa, the immigration department granted him a green card.
After his green card, which allowed him to work inside the US, was revoked, he attained the right to political asylum from court. A year later, in 1993, the first attack was carried out against the World Trade Center. The perpetrators blew up the foundations but the building did not collapse although six were killed and over a 1,000 were injured. The four men arrested were the blind sheikh’s students. He was imprisoned along with them on charges of conspiring to carry out explosive destruction of property and planning to target the UN building.
Many were not convinced that this list of targets was realistic and that the prosecution was exaggerating in pinning accusations. However, the World Trade Center was attacked again in 2001. It later turned out that Abdel-Rahman had sent from prison a letter to his friends in al-Qaeda in Afghanistan calling on them to attack the World Trade Center. He spent a quarter of a century in jail following a long list of terror crimes, which is unmatched in scale and duration.
This is the Omar Abdel-Rahman who was mourned by extremists that always justify terrorism.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on February 20 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.