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
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.
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
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.