FBI: Jailed cleric's illness triggers al Qaeda attack fears
The imprisoned blind cleric who inspired the 1993 World Trade Center bombing has been hospitalized, raising fears of new attacks if he dies in U.S. custody, the FBI said in a bulletin.
Radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, 68, spat up blood on December 6 and was rushed to a hospital, the FBI notice said. He had a small tear in his esophagus and was treated with a "needed transfusion to replace lost blood," said the FBI bulletin to staffers.
Medical personnel then discovered the cleric had a tumor on his liver, the FBI said. Al Quintero, a public information officer for the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, said Abdel-Rahman remained at the hospital for five days.
"His condition improved, and he was returned back to prison on December 11, where he remains in stable condition," Quintero said. Abdel-Rahman has strong ties to al Qaeda and is seen as a key theological force behind the terror group. He is an influential figure for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, most of whose members joined al Qaeda.
He has been mentioned often by Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Abdel-Rahman, who is serving life in a U.S. prison, has called for attacks if he dies in jail. Law enforcement sources said there is no intelligence to suggest there are any attacks being planned.
The cleric has been imprisoned since 1995 for inspiring the 1993 World Trade Center attack and a thwarted plot to attack bridges and tunnels, an FBI building and U.N. headquarters in New York.
The FBI bulletin includes what it said was Abdel-Rahman's last will and testament distributed at an al Qaeda news conference in 1998: "My brothers, if they kill me -- which they will certainly do -- hold my funeral and send my corpse to my family but do not let my blood be shed in vain. Rather extract the most violent revenge."
The memo also recounts a fatwa or religious message believed to have been issued from prison by Abdel-Rahman in the 1990s in which he blames the U.S. government for trying to eliminate him and other clergy "who are speaking the truth."
It also notes during the recent Muslim holiday of Ramadan, al Qaeda in Iraq released a videotape encouraging all Muslims there to capture Westerners so they could be exchanged for the release of Abdel-Rahman. FBI analysts said the tape is evidence that Abdel-Rahman remains a "significant source of inspiration" for al Qaeda and its sympathizers.
In February 2005, Abdel-Rahman's attorney, Lynne Stewart, was convicted of helping the cleric deliver messages to terrorists around the world, which violated a strict ban on any communication between him and his followers. The bulletin is intended to alert all those in law enforcement of the possibility of a threat.