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One Day in History: September 11, 2001
Abdel-Rahman, Sheikh Omar (1938-)
Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the "Blind Sheikh," has inspired Islamists around the world, particularly in the United States. He is currently serving a life sentence for conspiring to destroy the World Trade Center and several other landmarks in the New York City area. Abdel-Rahman is one of the influential clerics whose writings are cited by al-Qaeda in justifying martyrdom and the mass murder of nonbelievers.
Born in Egypt in 1938, Abdel-Rahman was blinded by diabetes as a child, and developed an obsessive interest in studying the Koran in braille. He graduated from the Al-Azhar University in Cairo and had ties with Islamist groups, including Islamic Jihad (see Yemen Islamic Jihad) and Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. He spent three years in prison awaiting trial after the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Though treated harshly, the "Blind Sheikh" was acquitted and expelled from Egypt. Making his way to Afghanistan, he developed close relationships with the Mujahideen leadership battling against the Soviet occupation, and became a spiritual leader and a well-traveled recruiter for the cause.
In the 1990s, with the Soviet war in Afghanistan over, Abdel-Rahman traveled to the United States under a visa provided by the Central Intelligence Agency, grateful for his contributions in the defeat of the Soviet army. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt warned the United States that it would rue the day it allowed Abdel-Rahman into the country. The "Blind Sheikh" became a fixture in New York City mosques, preaching a virulent brandof Islam and strident anti-Americanism.
The investigation of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (see World Trade Center 1993) demonstrated the influence the "Blind Sheikh" wielded over his followers in metropolitan New York. The investigation also uncovered an advanced plot to execute concurrent bombings of the United Nations building, the George Washington Bridge, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, and a Federal Bureau of Investigation office. Abdel-Rahman was convicted of seditious conspiracy in 1995.
Imprisonment has not ended the "Blind Sheikh's" influence. The day after his conviction, al-Islamiyya followers gunned down western tourists in Luxor, Egypt, killing 56 and wounding 28. Bodies were mutilated and stuffed with pamphlets demanding Abdel-Rahman's release. While in prison, the "Blind Sheikh" has issued fatwas, smuggled out by his lawyer Lynne Stewart. Stewart has been convicted of aiding a conspiracy to kill American citizens.
Further Reading: Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (I.B.Tauris, 2004); Steve Emerson, American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us (Simon & Schuster, 2003); Rohan Gunaratna, Inside al-Qaeda (Penguin, 2003). —Ray Brown
Aden, Islamic Army of
The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), also known as the Islamic Army of Aden Abyan, was founded by Abu al-Hassan in 1992 after his return from the guerrilla war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Initially, the group was formed to shut down U.S. bases in Yemen used to support the peacekeeping mission in Somalia in the 1990s. Today, the group is extremist, wanting to establish an Islamist government that adheres strictly to Sharia (Muslim) law, and remove all Western interests and influence from Yemen and the Middle East.
The Islamic Army of Aden Abyan is best known for participation in the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. The attack killed 17 American soldiers and 39 were injured. This group has also been linked with the kidnapping of 16 tourists in December 1998, and various other bombings and kidnappings in Yemen.
Intelligence sources indicate the group is a loose guerilla network of a few dozen men who may receive funding and support from Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader. The group primarily operates in the southern Yemeni provinces. Although the Yemeni government has cracked down on terrorist activities, it is unclear whether the Islamic Army of Aden Abyan is trying to regain power in the area, in addition to planning operations to advance their agenda.
The Islamic Army of Aden Abyan was designated a terrorist financier by President George W. Bush in 2001. The U.S. Treasury Department froze assets of the organization's chief legal officer in 2002. To help the Yemen government fight terrorist groups, the United States provides training and equipment to Yemen's Coast Guard, border patrol, and military.
Further reading: Center for Defense Information, "In the Spotlight: The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA)," (November 23, 2004);U.S. Department of State, "Al-Qaida" Terrorist Group Profiles: Country Reports on Terrorism, (April 2005); Sheila Carapico, "Yemen and the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army," Middle East Report Online, www.merip.org (October 18, 2000). —Dr. Margaret H. Williamson
Even as the Twin Towers were burning and collapsing, the question of who was responsible burned in the minds of the American public and government. The question was made more troubling by the astonishing lack of communication from any groups claiming responsibility; the usual suspects in the terrorist world (see Terrorism) were most notable in the loudness with which they deplored the attacks.
Among the leaders condemning the attacks was Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the TALIBAN, the religious government of Afghanistan. In the days that followed, evidence mounted that the attacks were the work of al-Qaeda. This organization, whose Arabic name means "the base" or "the foundation," was created by Osama bin Laden as an umbrella uniting fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organizations around the world. Its center of operations was Afghanistan, whose religious government followed a similar extremist interpretation of Islam and which allowed them to maintain extensive facilities, including training camps for terrorists. Although bin Laden had been living in primitive conditions since coming to Afghanistan in the 1980s to help the Mujahideen fight the Soviet occupation, he was in fact highly educated and sophisticated in dealing with the Western world, the son of a wealthy construction company owner in Saudi Arabia.
It was bin Laden's knowledge of international finance that funded al-Qaeda. Although the Taliban controlled the opium poppy fields, it was bin Laden and his Saudis who had the technical . . .One Day in History: September 11, 2001. Copyright � by Rodney Carlisle. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.