Attorney among 4 accused of supporting terrorism
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Four people, including an American attorney who represents a convicted terrorist, were indicted and charged with providing material support and resources to a terrorist group, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Tuesday.
The four helped blind Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman direct terrorist activity from his prison cell, Ashcroft said.
They also aided a terrorist organization identified as the Islamic Group, which has ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, Ashcroft said.
Rahman, 63, is serving a life sentence for his 1995 conviction in the plot to blow up such New York City landmarks as the U.N. General Assembly building, the New York FBI headquarters, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and the George Washington Bridge. The plot was organized by a terrorist cell based in the New York metropolitan area.
Rahman was the lead defendant among 10 men convicted. Followers of the sheik also were among the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.
Since 1997, Rahman, who suffers from diabetes, has been incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, under Bureau of Prison special administrative measures that restrict his communication with other inmates, visitors, attorneys and journalists.
Those measures prohibit Rahman's attorneys from using any meetings or correspondence with him to pass messages from third parties. Under a court order, their communications with Rahman were monitored "for several years," Ashcroft said.
The four people indicted Tuesday allegedly violated those restrictions.
Those charged were his Brooklyn-based attorney, Lynne Stewart, 62; an Arabic translator, Mohammed Yousry, 44, from Queens; an alleged Islamic Group operative who lives in Staten Island, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, 42; and a man who allegedly provided funds and communications support for the Islamic Group, Yassir Al-Sirri, who is incarcerated in England.
Stewart, Yousry, and Sattar were arrested Tuesday while FBI agents searched their homes or offices. The three entered pleas of not guilty at their arraignment in federal court in Manhattan Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm a lawyer. I fight for my clients. that's what my job is," Stewart later told reporters. "I'm going to continue to be a lawyer, hopefully, until they carry me out. But I sincerely hope it isn't the government that does the carrying."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Bianco said the government would seek to extradite Al-Sirri.
Bianco said the evidence against the four includes hundreds of intercepted conversations, mostly in Arabic, obtained by eavesdropping inside prison and from wiretaps of Sattar's and Yousry's phones and computers in their homes.
U.S. District Judge John Koetl released Stewart and Yousry on bail and restricted their travel. Sattar has a bail hearing scheduled for Friday.
"The indictment charges that Rahman used communications with Stewart, translated by Yousry, to pass messages to and receive messages from Sattar, Al-Sirri and other Islamic Group members," Ashcroft said. "The rules relating to his incarceration have been broken."
For example, Ashcroft said, in a May 2000 visit to Rahman, Stewart allowed Yousry to read letters from Sattar regarding the Islamic Group and a possible resumption of "military operations."
Later that year a fatwa -- or religious decree -- written under Rahman's name and disseminated by Al-Sirri urged "the Muslim nation to fight against the Jews and to kill them wherever they are," the indictment alleges.
Ashcroft could not cite a specific terrorist act that resulted from Rahman's illicit communications, but he called them "very important signaling to the Islamic Group."
Indictment describes terrorist acts
The indictment describes a handful of terrorist attacks carried out by militants demanding Rahman's release from prison. The worst occurred in a November 1997 attack at the Luxor, Egypt, archeological site that killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians, the document says.
"Scattered on the bodies of those who died in Luxor were the pamphlets saying, 'Release the Sheik,'" Ashcroft said.
The indictment alleges the New York-based Sattar has relayed messages from abroad to Rahman, while Yousry, who acts as an interpreter during prison visits and phone calls between Rahman and his attorneys, "is one of the very limited number of people who has any means of communicating directly" with the sheik.
In addition, the indictment alleges that Sattar wired money to one of Rahman's sons, Mohammed Abdel Rahman, in Afghanistan last year.
Two of Rahman's sons took up arms with al Qaeda in the past few years, CNN has previously reported. One son was killed in Afghanistan; another is in U.S. custody.
Stewart, who was Rahman's trial attorney, allowed the dissemination of a false claim that the Bureau of Prisons denied Rahman medical treatment, when she knew that Rahman himself had refused insulin, the indictment says.
Ashcroft said any future conversations between Rahman and his attorneys would be the first in which an inmate would be subject to monitoring under the terms of the antiterrorism Patriot Act signed into law in October.
"We will not allow individuals to perpetrate criminal acts or terrorist acts from their prison cells," Ashcroft said."
-- CNN Producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.
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