Safety chief fears Missouri could be mistakenly targeted by terrorists

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's public safety chief said Tuesday he is concerned the state could be mistakenly targeted because of confusion over where a prominent terrorism leader is being held.

Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the Blind Sheik, spent more than five years in a federal prison in Springfield. But he was transferred in 2007 to a federal facility in North Carolina and is being held at the Butner Federal Medical Center.

Rahman was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 for his role in a plot to kill Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and blow up New York City landmarks, including the United Nations. Rahman, a radical Egyptian cleric, preached at a Jersey City, N.J., mosque and was the spiritual leader for the men convicted in the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center.

Missouri Public Safety director Mark James said Tuesday that newly gleaned intelligence shows postings on jihadist websites indicating that some are calling for "offensive action" on behalf of Rahman.

Some websites also wrongly indicate he is still in a Springfield prison. The first site yielded by a Google search for Rahman's name as it appears on federal prison records -- "Omar Ahmad Rahman" -- listed Springfield as his place of detention before it was updated Tuesday evening with the North Carolina facility.

"My concern is that this type of rhetoric and posting could cause someone to perpetrate some sort of terrorist act somewhere in the state of Missouri, Springfield or somewhere else to draw attention to the Blind Sheik," James said.

He said intelligence from this week shows a 30-minute video on a jihadist website that mentions Rahman and calls for followers to take action. James said it doesn't specifically call for an attack in Springfield, but described the message as a "call to arms."

In a May 1998 news conference, al-Qaida members distributed Rahman's last will and testament, in which the sheik pleaded for followers to "extract the most violent revenge" should he die in U.S. custody.

James said it's not uncommon for there to be messages urging retaliation on behalf of Rahman, so the new intelligence is worth concern but is not causing undue alarm.

"We consistently see discussion highlighting that the Blind Sheik is still in U.S. captivity," James said. "They've granted him almost martyr status."

According to records from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Rahman spent two years in the Springfield facility from January 1996 to January 1998 before being transferred to Minnesota. In 2002, he was moved to a Supermax prison in Colorado before health problems forced him back to Springfield in 2003.

Rahman is diabetic and while in prison has waged a hunger strike, shunned his insulin and eaten candy to make his condition worse.

The FBI reported to federal intelligence officials in 2006 that Rahman was rushed to a Springfield hospital in 2006 for a blood transfusion where doctors discovered a tumor on his liver.

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