At the ancient Egyptian temple city of Luxor six men clad in police uniforms flagged down two busloads of Japanese and European tourists, seized them and drove the buses across the dunes toward the Valley of the Queens. The men raked the buses with gunfire, then hacked and stabbed the terrified passengers with swords, slaughtering 58 and gunning down six policemen who ran to their aid.
A third bus containing American tourists somehow was spared on that November day in 1997. None could know that the horror they witnessed in the Egyptian desert, committed by a terrorist cell of Gama'a al-Islamiya, the so-called Islamic Group, may have been hatched from within a federal prison in New York.
At the prison, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman was serving a life sentence for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and for conspiring to blow up the United Nations Building, two major New York traffic tunnels, a bridge and the skyscraper containing the FBI field office. In his native Egypt, the so-called "spiritual leader" was wanted for leading a conspiracy to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak. His organization assassinated Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981.
As the body bags with the tourists' remains were prepared for shipment home, the Islamic Group called a "truce." But Rahman, known as the "blind cleric" for white, sightless eyes that he usually obscures with sunglasses, was not content to sit idly in solitary confinement. Like gangsters, drug kingpins and other terrorists before him, he continued to command operations from his cell.
According to the Justice Department, the Arabic-speaking Rahman worked through a handful of trusted comrades. All are Arab men with the exception of his lawyer: a dumpy American woman named Lynne Stewart. Here, housed in a four-story office building in lower Manhattan, is the nexus between fundamentalist Islamic terrorists and the American far left. The law office Stewart shares with another attorney, Stanley Cohen, is part of the core of legal activism in support of jihadist terrorists who have sworn to kill Americans. But, of course, the terrorists are entitled to legal representation and they get it.
Stewart's arrest on April 8, however, may have brought her activist legal career full circle while raising questions about a network of lawyers, militants and terrorists who reportedly have cooperated in the United States since the 1960s. An Insight investigative report described part of that network of New Left coalition-building with supporters of Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad ("Domestic Front in the War on Terror," Jan. 7). Another report by this magazine's John Berlau highlighted inroads those groups had made among prominent New Right activists ("Militant Muslims and the GOP," Dec. 3, 2001).
The indictments of Stewart, as well as Rahman's interpreter, Mohammed Yousry and the blind cleric's second-in-command, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, are sweet vindication for the FBI, say terrorism specialists, which for decades has been beaten back by activist lawyers working with terrorists who litigated and campaigned with stunning success to thwart efforts of the bureau and local police departments to monitor extremist groups. Even 21 years ago, the late Rep. John M. Ashbrook (R-Ohio) commented: "Over the past decade, [U.S.-based terrorist groups] have been able to organize and operate, while at the same time our law-enforcement agencies were shackled with bureaucratic directives and roadblocks that effectively denied them the ability to protect our lives and property. With few exceptions, our local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies may commence action only after the bomb has been exploded, the victim murdered and the damage done. In some shocking cases, judges have ordered our law-enforcement agencies to turn over their files on active terrorist investigations to attorneys who collaborate with the terrorists. …