An ugly and confusing terrorist attack at an Algerian gas facility is getting even more troubling as the Islamic radicals now demand the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and another prominent terrorist in exchange for the remaining American hostages.
Abdel Rahman is the blind sheikh now serving a life sentence for masterminding the 1993 attack against the World Trade Center. Terrorists are also demanding the release of Aafia Saddiqui, who is imprisoned on her conviction for attempted murder.
And the captors in Algeria are not the only ones who want to see Abdel Rahman released. The new leaders in Egypt are also urging the U.S. to free him. But why is Abdel Rahman so revered?
“He is the most iconic symbol to Islamic supremacists the world over of not only their struggle against the West but their deep-seeded conviction that they will win that battle,” said Andrew C. McCarthy, the lead federal prosecutor in the case that put Rahman and 11 others behind bars. “He is thought of internationally as somebody whois virtually without equal in facing down the United States in particular. That’s not just because of the 1993 Trade Center bombing and the plots that occurred right after that to try to take out New York City landmarks but the fact that Osama Bin Laden, someone else that was thought very highly of as an iconic figure in the international jihad, attributed to Abdel Rahman the credit for issuing the fatwa that approved the 9/11 attacks. So he’s a singular figure in this global movement and that’s why really since we imprisoned him in the summer of 1993 they’ve been agitating for his release.”
Despite the adoration that Islamic radicals have for Abdel Rahman, the assumption of most is that the Obama administration will obviously reject the demands. McCarthy isn’t so sure. He says the odd response from the administration following Egyptian efforts to free Abdel Rahman leads him to believe there is some chance this could happen down the road.
“I think (the terrorists) may be rebuffed in the here and now, but we had very good reason to think that based on the reporting from the Egyptian press and from the strange silence of the Obama administration in the face of some of these demands for the blind sheikh that the State Department was already broaching the possibility in negotiations with Egypt on returning the blind sheikh on some cockamamie humanitarian grounds,” said McCarthy. “So I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. I think if Obama had been defeated, the blind sheikh would have been returned to Egypt sometime in the 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and I’m still not convinced that it won’t happen. I doubt it will happen right now simply because you don’t want to appear to just surrender to these terrorists.”
Over the past two years, radical elements have achieved great success in North Africa, ranging from the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Libya to the more recent uprisings in Mali that have spilled over into Algeria. McCarthy says this surge in radical power should come as no surprise.
“Since 9/11 and actually even before 9/11, we talked about this as a global movement which is precisely what it is. We’ve even seen it have inspirational and animating effect in our country, in our own borders,” said McCarthy. “This is exactly what we’ve always said it was. Al Qaeda is an international movement with tentacles that operate globally and cooperatively with a lot of affiliated Islamist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood from time to time. So I don’t know why anyone should be surprised that what we’ve always regarded as a global movement turns out to be a global movement.”
McCarthy says the U.S. expedited chaos in Africa by deciding to topple Moammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. He says in addition to removing someone who was largely cooperating in the fight against terrorism, Gaddafi’s weapons arsenal was left vulnerable to radical elements and many of those weapons are now being used to fight the French and others in Mali.