U.S. media is reporting that Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President-elected Mohammed Morsi has made a speech in which he promised to seek the release from U.S. custom of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called “blind sheikh” convicted for his role in a helping to plan the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. According to a Wall Street Journal report:
Egypt’s President-elect Mohammed Morsi made a nod to his base in a speech on Friday when he pledged to seek the release of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman from U.S. custody. His detention has become a cause célèbre among hard-line Salafi Islamists whom Mr. Morsi counted on in his runoff against ex-regime loyalist Ahmed Shafiq. Dozens of bearded Abdel-Rahman supporters, many in religious vestments, have slept outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in a sit-in that has lasted the better part of a year. A full city block of downtown Cairo is festooned with banners bearing the blind sheik’s image—bearded, capped with a red tarboosh and 1960s-era wayfarer sunglasses. When Egyptian authorities charged seven U.S. citizens, including the son of a cabinet secretary, with violating laws on foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations in the spring, Sheik Abdel-Rahman’s supporters lined up outside the courthouse calling for a prisoner swap. For die-hard devotees, Mr. Morsi has taken up a cause that proves his revolutionary credentials: ousted President Hosni Mubarak did nothing to seek the sheik’s release. ‘It’s wonderful. He did very good mentioning Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman,’ said Hesham el Ashry, a sheik supporter and a preacher. ‘If America wants to be a real friend of the new Egyptian regime, they have to respond to the request of Morsi and release Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.’ But for liberal-leaning revolutionaries who cast ballots for Mr. Morsi only to block Mr. Shafiq’s bid for the presidency, the promise—spoken in the same breath as a vow to work for the release of 12,000 Egyptians tried by military tribunals since February 2011—made them recoil. ‘He gave a certain message: Our people like Omar Abdel-Rahman are our first priority, then the youth,’ said Hala Mustafa, a spokeswoman for the secular-minded liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party. Sheik Abdel-Rahman was one of the primary leaders of the Egyptian militant group Al Gama’a al Islamiyya. Though the group was accused of masterminding the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Sheik Abdel-Rahman avoided blame and moved to Afghanistan, where he made close associations with Osama bin Laden, the late leader of the militant group al Qaeda. In 1990, the blind sheik, who lost his eyesight as a result of a childhood illness, moved to New York. He traveled the nation peddling anti-American propaganda to Arab audiences before his conviction in 1995 on charges of ‘seditious conspiracy’ in connection with the Trade Center bombing.