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U.S. Secretly Met With Followers of Blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman Before Controversial Visa Application

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Followers of Omar Abdel Rahman made overtures to U.S. diplomats one year before the radical sheikh entered the United States on a visa approved by a CIA agent.

During several meetings with diplomatic officers at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, members of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Group) provided extensive details about the operations of one of Egypt's most notorious terrorist organizations.

Initiated by al-Gama'a, the meetings were aimed at creating a dialogue with the U.S. in the hopes of eventual, unspecified cooperation. The initiative was based on a perception that the U.S. enjoyed similar cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Less than four years after the approach, an al-Gama'a terror cell led personally by Abdel-Rahman bombed the World Trade Center in New York City.

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The 1989 meetings are described in secret cables from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which were declassified and released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by INTELWIRE.

THE APRIL 1989 MEETING

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An April 25, 1989 cable from the Cairo embassy describes several meetings between unidentified "embassy officers" and a self-proclaimed member of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. The name of the member is redacted, as are several other sections of the cable.

Signed by U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, the cable is addressed to several other U.S. embassies and to U.S. intelligence services and military posts. It was classified as "secret."

Known as the "blind sheik," Rahman was considered the main spiritual guide for both al-Gama'a and al-Jihad, otherwise known as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. At the time of the meeting, Rahman was under detention in Egypt but was expected to be released shortly.

In meetings with embassy officials, the member said al-Gama'a and al-Jihad were, in fact, the same organization. Historically, the two groups have had overlapping membership and agendas. Today, they are considered separate organizations, and Al-Gama'a has renounced the use of violence.

The member estimated al-Gama'a membership as between 150,000 and 200,000, a figure which the embassy suspected was exaggerated.

The member said he was part of al-Gama'a Shura Council while he was in prison, between September 1981 and October 1988. He said his specialty was organizing protests and demonstrations. The member disputed government characterizations of al-Gama'a as "secret" and "violent" and disavowed attacks that had been attributed to the group.

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The member provided printed material concerning Rahman and al-Gama'a beliefs and goals. He said the group found the government of Saudi Arabia to be "the best Islamic government today" but faulted Saudi King Fahd for failing to take a hard line against Iran.

However, the member said, Rahman met with an Iranian delegation in Pakistan during the autumn of 1988 and was "favorably impressed."

Rahman also traveled to the United States in 1988 to speak a conference, the member said. The "blind sheikh" traveled to the U.S. yearly, the member said, on trips supported by Saudi Arabia.

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J.M. Berger is a journalist covering terrorism and extremism. He has produced content for the National Geographic Channel, National Public Radio and more. His first book, "Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go To War In The Name Of Islam," can be pre-ordered through (more...)
 

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