Washington Times Editorial
The Obama administration is reportedly in talks with Egypt’s government to transfer convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman back to his home country. This would be a major foreign-policy blunder and an insult to the counterterrorism professionals who put the terror leader behind bars.
Rahman, known as the “Blind Sheikh,” was the leader of the terrorist group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, which conducted a series of attacks in Egypt in the early 1990s. Rahman was in exile in New York at the time, preaching at mosques, fundraising, building a radical following and conspiring to create mayhem in America. Rahman and nine of his acolytes were arrested after the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In 1996, he was sentenced to life in prison for his part in the plot.
Securing Rahman’s freedom is a cause celebre among Islamists. The “Abdel Rahman Brigades” have mounted a series of attacks in his name in Libya and may have motivated the Sept. 11 murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Blind Shiekh’s family organized the demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo on the same day during which a mob breached the embassy perimeter, tore down the American flag and raised the black banner of jihad. The pre-planned event was billed as, “The real terrorist — America or Omar Abdel Rahman?” Rahman’s son Abdullah said that sheikh’s return would be “the start of real reconciliation” between the United States and Egypt, and the family is confident Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi will keep his campaign promise of working to secure the sheikh’s release. The issue is expected to come up when Mr. Morsi meets with President Obama next week in New York.
Rahman’s Islamist supporters portray the sheikh as a man of peace who was innocently caught up in events in which he was not involved. The Egyptian government isn’t challenging Rahman’s conviction but instead is seeking his release on humanitarian grounds. The sheikh is 74, in ill-health and being held at Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina. The model for the transfer would be the release of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of 270 counts of murder for his role in the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 2009, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, al-Megrahi was transferred from Scotland to Libya on “compassionate grounds.” There he lived another three years. Islamist radicals would like the blind sheikh to receive the same compassion al-Megrahi did, but that is more solicitude than Rahman showed his victims.
The White House should balk at any early release for the sheikh. Given the current level of anti-American violence in the region, it would look like — and in fact be — a concession to terrorism. Rahman’s transfer, if it comes, would have to wait for Mr. Obama’s flex time after the election. Mr. Obama and Mr. Morsi may also discuss transferring accused al Qaeda explosives expert Tarek El Sawah, the last Egyptian detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Releasing the blind sheikh on any grounds would embolden radicals abroad and demoralize America’s counterterrorism efforts. It would also undermine the Obama administration’s argument that terrorists be tried in civilian courts. Rahman’s case is a model for this type of justice. He and his co-conspirators were afforded full due-process rights, given their days in court and convicted. He did the crime here; he should serve the time here.