The new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is urging President Barack Obama to stand strong against new demands from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Morsi is calling for the release of convicted terrorist Omar Abdul Rahman.
“I urge the Obama administration to stand firm against pleas from Egypt to free Omar Abdel Rahman,” Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, the new chairman of the powerful House committee, said in a Tuesday statement. “Releasing a terrorist who plotted against the United States and has American blood on his hands would be seen as a sign of weakness throughout the Muslim extremist world and will only serve to embolden our enemies who continue to plot against us.”
McCaul took the reins of the House Homeland Security Committee from New York Republican Rep. Peter King at the beginning of the new 113th Congress that started on January 3.
Abdul Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison for his role in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In that attack, six people were killed and hundreds were injured after a truck bomb was set off in the building’s garage.
Throughout September, reports surfaced that the Obama administration may consider releasing the Blind Sheikh into Egyptian custody. House Republican leaders – including eight powerful committee chairs – stepped up to voice their opposition to a potential transfer.
That prompted Obama administration agencies – including the Justice Department, National Security Council and State Department – to deny reports that they were considering transferring the Blind Sheikh.
“The blind sheik is going to serve out his life sentence,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in September, for instance. “There are no discussions about transferring him. These reports are wrong.”
Those public denials from the Obama administration haven’t stopped Egypt from lobbying for the Blind Sheikh’s release, and haven’t quelled worries from many in the national security community. Andrew C. McCarthy, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who’s perhaps best known for successfully prosecuting the Blind Sheikh, predicted in September that the plan was always to release the Blind Sheikh after the November presidential election whether Obama won or lost.
“I think the plan has been to agree to the Blind Sheikh’s release, but not to announce it or have it become public until after the election,” McCarthy said then. “That is consistent with Obama’s pattern of trying to mollify Islamists. Obviously, they did not want this information to surface yet… but sometimes a situation can spin out of control.”
Now that the election is over, Morsi is publicly pushing Obama to release the Blind Sheikh. In an interview with CNN that aired Monday, the Egyptian leader said he’s planning a March 2013 trip to the United States during which he’ll pressure Obama on the issue.
“I want him to be free,” Morsi said of the Blind Sheikh, adding that he “respect[s] the law. And the rule of law in Egypt and the United States.”
Morsi said that if Obama won’t free the Blind Sheikh, he thinks the convicted terrorist should be granted visitation rights with his family.