Obituary: The Blind Sheikh

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The late Omar Abdel-Rahman aka The Blind Sheikh. (Photo: © Screenshot from video)

One of the world’s most notorious terrorist leaders has passed away in a U.S. prison at the age of 78. We look at who he was and his lengthy career as an extremist.


Name: Omar Abdel-Rahman aka The Blind Sheikh

Distinguishing features: Blind from infancy due to diabetes. Memorized the Quran aged 11.

Born: 1938, al-Gamalia village, Nile Delta, Egypt

Died: 2017, Federal Correction Complex, Butner, North Carolina

Education: Al-Azhar University, Cairo

Family: Two wives, 13 children.

Immigration to US: 1990, under the name Omar Ahmed Ali

Religious career: Imam in oasis of Fayyoum, Egypt. Imam in New Jersey mosque. Spiritual leader to extremists.

US Imprisonment: 1993. Leading a terror cell which plotted bomb attacks against the United Nations building, the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and other targets in New York City. Six of his supporters were also convicted for a truck bombing against the World Trade Center which killed six people.

Terrorist Resume:

Leader of the terrorist group Gamaa Islamiya in Egypt, which plotted to overthrow the Egyptian state and replace it with an Islamist state under sharia governance.

Spiritual leader to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan who were fighting against the Soviets.

Symbolic figure to extremists following his imprisonment.

1970: Sentenced to eight months in prison for telling supporters not to pray for newly-deceased Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser on the grounds he was an infidel.

1981: Jailed for allegedly supporting the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (later acquitted).

1984: Acquitted of plotting to overthrow the government

1989: Acquitted of inciting anti-government protests in Fayyoum

1989: Issues fatwa calling for the murder of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz

1994: An extremist who said he was carrying out the Blind Sheikh’s fatwa stabs Naguib Mahfouz (he survived the attack)


The death of The Blind Sheikh is a milestone in the transition between an older generation of extremists and a younger generation. Older Islamists were able to carry out a lot of radicalization work in a far milder political climate and with less government surveillance. Today the pace of technological change and the fresh wave of wars​, ​which are rocking the Middle East, ​have both given extremists opportunities to exploit to further their hateful ideology, as well as empowering states with new methods to track, monitor and target them.

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.