from the Middle East Forum:
One of America’s oldest Islamist enemies, Omar Abdel Rahman, popularly known as the “Blind Sheikh,” died February 18 in a U.S. federal prison after nearly a quarter century behind bars. Though he did incalculable damage to our security during his illustrious career, he also taught us three valuable lessons, even if we’re reluctant to fully apply them.
First, Abdel Rahman showed us how devastating an impact the arrival of just one unvetted Islamic militant can have.
Abdel Rahman was an esteemed scholar of Islamic jurisprudence before becoming spiritual leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a violent offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, during the 1970s. In 1981 he was jailed for issuing a fatwa authorizing the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Released three years later, Abdel Rahman played a major role recruiting mujahideen networks fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and has often been credited by Osama bin Laden with inspiring al-Qaeda.
Abdel Rahman showed us how devastating the arrival of just one unvetted Islamic militant can be.
Despite being on a U.S. terrorism watch list, Abdel Rahman entered the United States in 1990 after obtaining a tourist visa from the U.S. embassy in Sudan. The State Department soon realized the mistake and tried to revoke the visa, but Abdel Rahman successfully fought deportation.
Why a known terrorist and sworn enemy of the United States was granted legal resident status is unclear. Some attribute this to a “tragicomedy of errors by American immigration authorities,” while others maintain the CIA helped secure his residency status because it thought it could keep an eye on him and obtain useful information.
The second lesson Rahman can teach us is about surveillance. After being insufficiently vetted, Abdel Rahman began preaching at three mosques in New York and New Jersey, attracting a growing body of recruits and directing them to plot a spree of terror attacks on New York City landmarks ranging from the United Nations to the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.