Shaikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who was controversially convicted of plotting terror attacks in the United States in the 1990s, has died aged 78. He had been suffering from diabetes and coronary artery disease.
Abdul Rahman, who was blind since infancy, was said to be the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Gamaa Islamiya which aimed at bringing down former President Hosni Mubarak.
Abdul Rahman fled Egypt to the US in 1990 and began teaching in a New Jersey mosque. A circle of his followers was convicted in the 1993 truck bombing of New York’s World Trade Center that killed six people.
Later in 1993, Abdul Rahman was arrested for conspiracy to carry out a string of bombings against the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and other New York landmarks. After being convicted – many say falsely, based on the testimony of an agent provocateur – he spent 25 years in solitary confinement. He said his only crime was speaking out against injustice.
Although he became blind in infancy, Abdul Rahman learned Braille and achieved hifz of the Quran at a tender age of 11. He graduated from Al-Azhar in Cairo with the highest honours and went onto complete a PhD on the Muslim duty of Jihad, a controversial topic which could have led many to fear persecution. In his mosque sermons he would openly criticise the evil practices of the Egyptian leaders of his time and encouraged people to stand up against them.
Abdul Rahman was arrested and tortured on more than one occasion in Egypt during the times of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. He was also a strong proponent of Sunni-Shia unity.