Writing at the Daily Beast, Eli Lake has the scoop on a ridiculous attempt at diplomacy with the new Egyptian parliament. One member of an Egyptian delegation visiting Washington this week was a man named Hani Nour Eldin. He is also a member of Gamaa Islamiya (Islamic Group, or “IG”), a designated terrorist organization closely allied to al Qaeda.
Eldin’s admitted membership in the IG should have prevented him from visiting Washington, but instead he met with senior Obama administration officials and enjoyed a visit to the Wilson Center. The head of the IG, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, sits in a U.S. prison after being convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a follow-on plot against landmarks in the New York City area.
Eldin wants Rahman returned to Egypt, where the sheikh would be supposedly re-imprisoned.
In his meetings with senior Obama administration officials, Eldin says, he asked Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough about transferring Abdel-Rahman to an Egyptian prison. He said his request was declined. “When I raised this issue in the White House I was told it was not in their authority and all judicial issues relating to sentences must be discussed with the Department of Justice,” he says. Transferring Abdel-Rahman, says Eldin, “would be a gift to the revolution.” McDonough didn’t reply to requests for comment made Thursday afternoon.
Rahman’s return to Egypt would be a gift for only the most radical members of Egypt’s revolution – that is, terrorists. Let us speculate for a moment: Eldin’s real goal is probably to either set Rahman free, a longstanding desire of al Qaeda and its affiliates (pre-9/11 hijack plots were formulated with this goal in mind), or to at least to make it easy for Rahman to communicate with his minions. This isn’t going to happen, for obvious reasons.
Rahman, aka the “Blind Sheikh,” was an instrumental figure in al Qaeda’s rise. He was a close ally of Osama bin Laden, who said that Rahman’s fatwa justifying terrorism against American civilians provided the religious justification for the September 11 attacks. Bin Laden funded Rahman’s IG, and al Qaeda has worked closely with the group since long before 9/11. Rahman was also the religious guide for Ayman al Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization, a core part of the al Qaeda joint venture.
One of the great pre-9/11 lapses in security was the U.S. government’s inability or unwillingness to stop Rahman from entering the country in 1990. Rahman set up shop in the New York-New Jersey area and the result was terrorism. Afterwards, the U.S. government took steps to make sure this sort of thing didn’t happen again.
The 9/11 Commission reported that in the 1990s:
State Department consular officers around the world, it should not be forgotten, were constantly challenged by the problem of terrorism, for they handled visas for travel to the United States. After it was discovered that Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheikh, had come and gone almost at will, State initiated significant reforms to its watchlist and visa-processing policies. In 1993, Congress passed legislation allowing State to retain visa-processing fees for border security; those fees were then used by the department to fully automate the terrorist watchlist. By the late 1990s, State had created a worldwide, real-time electronic database of visa, law enforcement, and watchlist information, the core of the post-9/11 border screening systems. Still, as will be seen later [in the commission’s report], the system had many holes.
Assuming the State Department’s decision to allow Eldin into the country was a mistake, this system apparently still has some significant holes. If someone in the U.S. government knowingly allowed an IG member into the country, then that raises other questions and concerns about the Obama administration’s approach to diplomacy.
The Blind Sheikh would be turned away from America’s shores if he attempted to immigrate today. Members of Rahman’s al Qaeda-allied terrorist organization seeking his release from an American prison should automatically be turned away as well. It doesn’t matter that Eldin claims he has had no involvement in anti-American terrorism (a claim that shouldn’t be taken at face value, by the way). Seeking the transfer or freedom of a man with a thick dossier of anti-American terrorism is bad enough.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.