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Context of 'August 5, 2006: Al-Zawahiri Apparently Announces Egyptian Militant Group Is Merging with Al-Qaeda, but Some Members Deny This'

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Members of Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, whose spiritual head is the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, hold a series of secret meetings with US officials at the American embassy in Cairo. The meetings are initiated by Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which wants to co-operate with the US, because it thinks the US is co-operating with and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. At the meetings, representatives of the group tell the US:
bullet Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has between 150,000 and 200,000 members;
bullet One of the representatives at the meetings sat on Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya’s shura, or leadership council, between 1981 and 1988. The 11 members of the group’s shura are named at the meetings, as is its operational commander;
bullet Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya thinks highly of Saudi Arabian King Fahd, but believes he should take a stronger line against Iran. However, Abdul-Rahman met an Iranian delegation in Pakistan in autumn 1988;
bullet The group will not attack US diplomats;
bullet Abdul-Rahman travels to the US yearly, and also travels to Britain;
bullet The group is not as secret and violent as represented by the Egyptian government and has undergone a “change in thinking,” becoming concerned about its radical and violent image.
Embassy officials are skeptical about some of the claims, as the group’s representatives reveal more than the officials think is prudent. One year after the meetings, Abdul-Rahman will be issued a US visa by a CIA officer and move to the US (see July 1990). [US Embassy in Cairo, 4/25/1989 pdf file; US Embassy in Cairo, 5/3/1989 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, United States, Omar Abdul-Rahman, US Embassy in Cairo

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [Source: FBI]Despite being on a US terrorist watch list for three years, radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman enters the US on a “much-disputed” tourist visa issued by an undercover CIA agent. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; Lance, 2003, pp. 42] Abdul-Rahman was heavily involved with the CIA and Pakistani ISI efforts to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and became famous traveling all over the world for five years recruiting new fighters for the Afghan war. The CIA gave him visas to come to the US starting in 1986 (see December 15, 1986-1989) . However, he never hid his prime goals to overthrow the governments of the US and Egypt. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] FBI agent Tommy Corrigan will later say that prior to Abdul-Rahman’s arrival, “terrorism for all intents and purposes didn’t exist in the United States. But [his] arrival in 1990 really stoke the flames of terrorism in this country. This was a major-league ballplayer in what at the time was a minor-league ballpark. He was… looked up to worldwide. A mentor to bin Laden, he was involved with the MAK over in Pakistan.” The charity front Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) is also known as Al-Kifah, and it has a branch in Brooklyn known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. The head of that branch, Mustafa Shalabi, picks up Abdul-Rahman at the airport when he first arrives and finds an apartment for him. Abdul-Rahman soon begins preaching at Al Farouq mosque, which is in the same building as the Al-Kifah office, plus two other locals mosques, Abu Bakr and Al Salaam. [Lance, 2006, pp. 53] He quickly turns Al-Kifah into his “de facto headquarters.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] He is “infamous throughout the Arab world for his alleged role in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.” Abdul-Rahman immediately begins setting up a militant Islamic network in the US. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993] He is believed to have befriended bin Laden while in Afghanistan, and bin Laden secretly pays Abdul-Rahman’s US living expenses. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; ABC News, 8/16/2002] For the next two years, Abdul-Rahman will continue to exit and reenter the US without being stopped or deported, even though he is still on the watch list (see Late October 1990-October 1992).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, Meir Kahane, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, US Department of State, Abu Bakr Mosque, Al Farouq Mosque, Al Salaam Mosque, Anwar Sadat, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Lynne Stewart.Lynne Stewart. [Source: Robert Livingston/ public domain]The ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, who has been in a maximum security facility since his conviction on terrorism charges in the mid 1990s, communicates with his supporters through his legal team, radical attorney Lynne Stewart, paralegal Ahmed Abdel Sattar, and interpreter Mohamed Yousry. Abdul-Rahman, who is held at the Supermax prison in Colorado and then at a medical facility in Minnesota, has no access to the outside world except through the team and he uses them to pass on advice. Author Peter Bergen will comment: “Sheikh Abdul-Rahman’s incarceration has not prevented him from communicating important messages to his followers through his family or lawyers; for instance, in 1997 he endorsed a ceasefire between the Egyptian government and the terrorist Islamic Group. Then in 2000 Sheikh Abdul-Rahman publicly withdrew his support from that ceasefire.” In addition, his will, which appears in 1998 and urges attacks against the US, may also be smuggled out by his legal team (see May 1998). However, passing on such information during the thrice-yearly visits is against the rules agreed for the visits. Stewart, who attempts to distract the prison guards while Abdul-Rahman passes on the messages, will be indicted in 2002 and found guilty on several charges, including conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. She will be sentenced to 28 months in jail. [CounterPunch, 10/12/2002; Fox News, 2/11/2005; CNN, 2/14/2005; Bergen, 2006, pp. 208-9; National Review, 10/17/2006] In 2001, one of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohand Alshehri, is reportedly seen near the Minnesota facility where Abdul-Rahman is being held (see August 2001).

Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, Lynne Stewart

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The card containing Abdul-Rahman’s message.The card containing Abdul-Rahman’s message. [Source: Peter Bergen]Pakistani journalist Ismail Khan is given a copy of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman’s purported will by one of his sons, while attending bin Laden’s first and only press conference in May 1998 (see May 26, 1998). Abdul-Rahman is serving life in prison in the US but his will anticipates that he will die soon from mistreatment. He says, “Extract the most violent revenge… Cut off all relations with [the Americans, Christians, and Jews], tear them to pieces, destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their peace, sink their ships, shoot down their planes, and kill them on air, sea, and land. And kill them wherever you may find them, ambush them, take them hostage, and destroy their observatories. Kill these infidels.” Whether this will really was smuggled out of a US prison or not, the words will have a big impact for bin Laden’s followers and mark a dramatic increase in the violent rhetoric used by al-Qaeda. Ahmed Ressam, who will later be arrested for trying to bomb the Los Angeles airport, trains at the Khaldan training camp in mid-1998. He will later testify that this statement from Abdul-Rahman was widely distributed at the training camp. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 204-205] US intelligence is presumably aware of the purported will, since CNN will report about it later in 1998. [CNN, 11/8/1998] Journalist Peter Bergen, who is given a copy of the message around this time, will later comment that the message to “attack the US economy and American aviation was an important factor in the 9/11 attacks.… [His] fatwas are the nearest equivalent al-Qaeda has to an ex cathedra statement by the Pope.… [He] was able for the first time in al-Qaeda’s history to rule that it was legally permissible, and even desirable, to carry out attacks against American planes and corporations, exactly the type of attacks that took place on 9/11.” Bergen notes that while one cannot be certain if Abdul-Rahman actually wrote the message, in other cases his imprisonment did not prevent him from getting messages out through his family or lawyers. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 208-209]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ismail Khan, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ahmad Abdul-Rahman, Ahmed Ressam, Peter Bergen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohand Alshehri.Mohand Alshehri. [Source: FBI]Hijacker Mohand Alshehri is apparently seen in a bar in Rochester, Minnesota, and is engaged in conversation with a woman there. Rochester is home to the Federal Medical Center prison, where the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, is held from 1998 to 2002. The hijackers have a number of tangential links to him (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001). The woman, Nancy Hanlon, often runs into Arabs at the bar, which is popular with Saudis receiving medical treatment nearby. Hanlon will later describe Alshehri as “young, dishevelled—and utterly despondent. He was slumped over a glass of beer… It was overwhelming—the despair that a person can give out! Out of every part of him. His face.” During their three-hour conversation Alshehri, who claims to be a pilot and produces a pilot’s ID, insists, “You are talking to a dead man. I don’t exist. I’m a ghost. I’m not even here, I’m dead… I’ve got myself into something there is no way out. There is no way out… It has been decided. He has decided it. It is done. It is finished.” However, he does brighten up a few times and says, “We are really going to show your country something. Something big. It’s going to be really big.” After 9/11, Hanlon apparently remains unaware of pictures showing Alshehri as one of the 9/11 hijackers. She goes to the FBI in 2002 and identifies Alshehri from a series of photographs. However, the FBI will say there is no reason to believe Alshehri ever visited Rochester. [Minneapolis St. Paul City Pages, 6/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Nancy Hanlon, Mohand Alshehri, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ayman al-Zawahiri announcing a link-up between al-Qaeda and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.Ayman al-Zawahiri announcing a link-up between al-Qaeda and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. [Source: Al Jazeera]A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video recording, which is aired on Al Jazeera. In the video he says that the Egyptian group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has joined forces with al-Qaeda and the two will form “one line, facing its enemies.” The spiritual leader of Al-Gama is the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, currently in prison in the US on terror charges (see (April 25-May 1989) and 1997-2002). Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader Mohamed Hakaima appears in the video and confirms the link-up. Before it was folded into al-Qaeda, Al-Zawahiri himself headed the Egyptian organization Islamic Jihad, which had sometimes worked with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. However, Al-Gam’a al-Islamiyya, which renounced violence in 1998 following which hundreds of its members were released from jail, denies the alliance, and analysts say that Hakaima is not a top leader in the organization. It issues a statement in Egypt that “categorically denies” al-Zawahiri’s claims, and a former leader, Sheikh Abdel Akher Hammad, says, “If [some] brothers… have joined, then this is their personal view and I don’t think that most Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members share that same opinion.” [CNN, 8/5/2006; Al Jazeera, 8/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Sheikh Abdel Akher Hammad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda, Mohamed Hakaima, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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