Troublesome Cleric 7

July 11, 1993

The United States has every right to shut down the political preaching of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. It is not doing so the way Egypt would wish, however, which would be to lock up the fiery clergyman in this country for a long time. Instead, the U.S. has expedited deportation proceedings that had been mysteriously delayed before.

The sheik is under court order to leave, upheld by an immigration appeals board Friday, pending court challenge. That means he could go free to a third country unless Egypt extradites him, which Egypt has applied to do, despite fears his presence might foment unrest. To avoid double jeopardy in the U.S., Egypt may have to think up a charge other than the one for which he was previously acquitted in an Egyptian court. His claim of political asylum might have some credibility if he is innocent of his followers' terrorism.

Americans cannot know if Attorney General Janet Reno was right in proceeding against Sheik Omar not, under criminal law, as a conspirator to blow up Manhattan but as a violator of immigration law. The evidence that might implicate or exculpate him has not been made public.

Egypt is in the midst of a massive crackdown against extremists claiming Islamic motivation, who have destroyed the tourism industry. Some 770 indictments are being prepared against those who allegedly planned to shoot and bomb police, government officials, tourists and Coptic Christians in the cause of making Egypt an Islamic state. Seven followers of the sheik who committed terrorism were just hanged. Like the U.S., Egypt claims it prevented a wave of terrorism scheduled for June.

Both Egypt and Israel warned the United States of terrorists operating here long before the U.S. showed signs of observing ** Sheik Omar. Egyptian officials have suggested the U.S. helped the blind, Islamic clergyman, who had urged the faithful to enlist in the war against communism in Afghanistan. Some of those accused of terrorism in New York served in the holy war in Afghanistan.

Whether the sheik was given favorable treatment by INS for that reason, his prominence in Jersey City and Brooklyn allowed the FBI to conduct surveillance on some of his followers charged in the World Trade Center bombing or the alleged June plot. This value for law enforcement must have ended when his sudden notoriety alerted associates that he would be watched.

Sheik Omar is an enemy to peace in the Middle East, an enemy to the Egyptian government and inevitably an enemy of the U.S. itself. His career on U.S. soil is an embarrassment to U.S. authorities that his temporary residence in a federal detention facility in Otisville, N.Y., neither ends nor explains.

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