Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 September 1999
Issue No. 446
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First visit in eight years

By Jailan Halawi

Omar Abdel-Rahman
Omar Abdel-Rahman
The US Embassy has issued three-week entry visas to Aisha Hassan and Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, the wife and brother of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader of the underground Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya. The blind cleric is serving a life sentence in a prison in Rochester, Minnesota, for plotting to bomb New York city landmarks. The visit by his wife and brother will be the first time they have seen the sheikh in eight years.

Abdel-Rahman, 61, was found guilty in October 1995 of seditious conspiracy and other charges, which he dismissed at the time as a US government attempt to put Islam on trial.

Last month, a US appeals court upheld the guilty verdict on the sheikh and nine of his followers for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, in which six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is probing allegations that Abdel-Rahman was cursed and assaulted by a prison guard. The sheikh was allegedly knocked off the toilet by a prison lieutenant who entered his cell early last month at the Federal Medical Centre in Rochester. As a result, the cleric bumped his head and bruised his arm.

Abdel-Rahman is in poor heath, suffering from diabetes and heart disease. Efforts are being made by his followers and lawyers to secure his release for health reasons and have him deported to Egypt.

Interior Minister Habib El-Adli, in an interview with the Al-Ahram newspaper last month, said that he did not oppose Abdel-Rahman's return to Egypt if, and when, he was released from the US prison.

"This is a very positive initiative because it opens the door for the return of the sheikh -- a door that has been closed for several years," Montasser El-Zayyat, Abdel-Rahman's Egyptian lawyer, told Al-Ahram Weekly. The former interior minister, Hassan El-Alfi, had strongly opposed the sheikh's return or even allowing his family to leave the country to visit him. Under El-Alfi, the passports of Abdel-Rahman's wife and son were withdrawn.

El-Zayyat said that El-Adli's position is in tandem with the Al-Gama'a's commitment to a cease-fire initiative, made in 1997 by leaders incarcerated in Cairo, and supported by the cleric. "In this atmosphere of calm, the sheikh would like to come home as an Egyptian citizen," El-Zayyat added.

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