Omar Abdel-Rahman

Omar Abdel-Rahman—known colloquially as the “Blind Sheikh”—was an influential figure for al-Qaeda terrorists, known for issuing fatwas (religious rulings) calling for acts of terrorism. Abdel-Rahman was himself implicated in plotting and conspiring to carry out various acts of terror. The Egyptian national was arrested in 1993, tried, and ultimately convicted in 1995 on dozens of charges, including conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU. A rallying figure for al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood among other extremist groups, Abdel-Rahman died in February 2017 while serving a life sentence in U.S. prison.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU.

Abdel-Rahman was born and raised in Egypt, blind since infancy as a result of childhood diabetes.Peter Bergen, “The Cleric Who Altered the Course of Modern History,” CNN, February 19, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/opinions/9-11-spiritual-guide-dies-bergen/;
Rich Schapiro, “Blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, Mastermind of 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, Dies at 78,” New York Daily News, February 19, 2017, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/blind-sheik-omar-abdel-rahman-linked-1993-wtc-attack-dies-article-1.2976140.
After studying the Quran in braille, Abdel-Rahman received a doctorate degree in Islamic jurisprudence from Al-Azhar University in Cairo.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU; Peter Bergen, “The Cleric Who Altered the Course of Modern History,” CNN, February 19, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/opinions/9-11-spiritual-guide-dies-bergen/. Following the October 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Abdel-Rahman was arrested and imprisoned for having previously penned a fatwa excommunicating Sadat, thereby laying the theological groundwork for his murder.Matt Schudel, “Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned ‘blind sheikh’ linked to terrorist efforts, dies at 78,” Washington Post, February 18, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/omar-abdel-rahman-blind-sheik-convicted-in-1993-world-trade-center-attack-dies-at-78/2017/02/18/807c4f2c-f603-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html;
Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU.
Although Abdel-Rahman was discovered to have written the fatwa, he was acquitted of direct involvement in the murder, and was released from prison in 1984.Julia Preston, “Omar Abdel Rahman, Blind Cleric Found Guilty of Plot to Wage ‘War of Urban Terrorism,’ Dies at 78,” New York Times, February 18, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/18/world/middleeast/omar-abdel-rahman-dead.html. Abdel-Rahman subsequently left Egypt for Afghanistan, where he joined the anti-Soviet jihadist movement and forged an alliance with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.Matt Schudel, “Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned ‘blind sheikh’ linked to terrorist efforts, dies at 78,” Washington Post, February 18, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/omar-abdel-rahman-blind-sheik-convicted-in-1993-world-trade-center-attack-dies-at-78/2017/02/18/807c4f2c-f603-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html.

In 1990, Abdel-Rahman applied for and received a tourist visa to travel to the United States, despite being on the State Department’s list of individuals with ties to terrorist organizations.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU. That year, Abdel-Rahman and his followers were implicated in the murder of radical preacher Rabbi Meir Kahane, shot to death in a Manhattan hotel.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU;
John Kifner, “Meir Kahane, 58, Israeli Militant and Founder of the Jewish Defense League,” New York Times, November 6, 1990, http://www.nytimes.com/1990/11/06/obituaries/meir-kahane-58-israeli-militant-and-founder-of-the-jewish-defense-league.html.
Abdel-Rahman nonetheless received a green card and U.S. permanent resident status the following year, and began preaching in storefronts in Brooklyn, New York, and nearby Jersey City in New Jersey.Matt Schudel, “Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned ‘blind sheikh’ linked to terrorist efforts, dies at 78,” Washington Post, February 18, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/omar-abdel-rahman-blind-sheik-convicted-in-1993-world-trade-center-attack-dies-at-78/2017/02/18/807c4f2c-f603-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html;
Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU.
In 1992, Abdel-Rahman and his followers were linked to terrorist attacks in Egypt, including the murder of an Egyptian writer and attacks on foreign tourists.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU.

On February 26, 1993, followers of Abdel-Rahman bombed the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and wounding more than 1,000 others. Abdel-Rahman was arrested four months later as part of the investigation, and was found to have been directly involved in plotting a thwarted “day of terror” in New York, in which terrorists would simultaneously bomb the United Nations building, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, and the FBI headquarters.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU;
Matt Schudel, “Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned ‘blind sheikh’ linked to terrorist efforts, dies at 78,” Washington Post, February 18, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/omar-abdel-rahman-blind-sheik-convicted-in-1993-world-trade-center-attack-dies-at-78/2017/02/18/807c4f2c-f603-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html.
Abdel-Rahman was also found to have plotted to kill Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a 1993 visit to the United States, as well as a Jewish New York state legislator and a Jewish New York State Supreme Court justice.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU. In all, Abdel-Rahman was convicted on 48 terrorism-related charges on October 1, 1995, and sentenced in 1996 to life in prison.Joseph P. Fried, “The Terror Conspiracy: the Overview; Sheik and 9 Followers Guilty of a Conspiracy of Terrorism,” New York Times, October 2, 1995, http://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/02/nyregion/terror-conspiracy-overview-sheik-9-followers-guilty-conspiracy-terrorism.html;
Julia Preston, “Lawyer Is Guilty of Aiding Terror,” New York Times, February 11, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/11/nyregion/lawyer-is-guilty-of-aiding-terror.html.

While in prison, Abdel-Rahman continued to serve as a rallying figure for notorious extremist and terrorist operatives, including al-Qaeda leaders bin Laden and Zawahiri, as well as Zawahiri’s brother, Muhammad al-Zawahiri, and Egyptian Brotherhood figure Mohammed Morsi.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU;
Matt Schudel, “Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned ‘blind sheikh’ linked to terrorist efforts, dies at 78,” Washington Post, February 18, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/omar-abdel-rahman-blind-sheik-convicted-in-1993-world-trade-center-attack-dies-at-78/2017/02/18/807c4f2c-f603-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html.
In May 1998, two years after Abdel-Rahman’s sentence to life in prison, al-Qaeda publicly released a fatwa by Abdel-Rahman urging all Muslims to “tear [Americans, Jews, and Christians] to pieces.” Presaging al-Qaeda’s USS Cole and 9/11 attacks, the fatwa continued: “Destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their businesses, sink their ships and bring down their airplanes. Kill them in the sea, on land and in the air.”Peter Bergen, “The Cleric Who Altered the Course of Modern History,” CNN, February 19, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/opinions/9-11-spiritual-guide-dies-bergen/.

Bin Laden and other senior Islamist figures have continued to reference Abdel-Rahman as a rallying figure in their various propaganda materials. In 2000, Al Jazeera released a video of bin Laden vowing “to work with all our power to free our brother, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.”Peter Bergen, “The Cleric Who Altered the Course of Modern History,” CNN, February 19, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/opinions/9-11-spiritual-guide-dies-bergen/. In the spring of 2001, during the final stages before the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden released a two-hour-long propaganda video for al-Qaeda, at one point referencing Abdel-Rahman, calling him a “hostage in an American jail.”Peter Bergen, “The Cleric Who Altered the Course of Modern History,” CNN, February 19, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/opinions/9-11-spiritual-guide-dies-bergen/.

Zawahiri has meanwhile called on Egyptians to kidnap Americans in an effort to secure a prisoner exchange, and his brother, Muhammad, has called Abdel-Rahman “the godfather of all Islamic movements.”Matt Schudel, “Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned ‘blind sheikh’ linked to terrorist efforts, dies at 78,” Washington Post, February 18, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/omar-abdel-rahman-blind-sheik-convicted-in-1993-world-trade-center-attack-dies-at-78/2017/02/18/807c4f2c-f603-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html. Upon his election to the Egyptian presidency in 2012, Brotherhood figure Mohammed Morsi pledged to win Abdel-Rahman’s freedom, which he characterized as a priority for his government.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU;
David D. Kirkpatrick, “Egypt’s New Leader Takes Oath, Promising to Work for Release of Jailed Terrorist,” New York Times, June 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/world/middleeast/morsi-promises-to-work-for-release-of-omar-abdel-rahman.html.
Abdel-Rahman’s speeches and texts have also reportedly been used by ISIS for recruitment purposes.Kjetil Stormark, “Fight and Win Paradise,” Hate Speech International, February 4, 2014, https://www.hate-speech.org/fight-in-syria-win-paradise/.

Abdel-Rahman suffered from coronary artery disease and diabetes. He died of natural causes while in U.S. custody on February 18, 2017.Bill Trott, “’Blind Sheikh’ Convicted in 1993 World Trade Bombing Dies in U.S. Prison,” Reuters, February 18, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-idUSKBN15X0KU.

 
Return to Full Database

Take action:

Help Counter Extremism

Stay updated on the latest

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On June 13, 2016, convicted terrorist Larossi Abballa stabbed to death two married police officers in their home in Magnanville, France, in an attack claimed by ISIS. Abballa livestreamed the murder on Facebook and held the couple’s three-year-old son hostage before police stormed the home.

View Archive

CEP on Twitter