Homeland Security chairman presses Obama to keep 'blind sheik' in prison

The top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee pressed President Obama on Tuesday to refuse recent calls for the release of “the blind sheik” from federal prison.

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Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the new chairman of the homeland security panel, said that Obama would diminish the United States’ strength in its fight against terrorists if he decided to release Omar Abdel-Rahman from prison.

“Releasing a terrorist who plotted against the United States and has American blood on his hands would be seen as a sign of weakness throughout the Muslim extremist world and will only serve to embolden our enemies who continue to plot against us,” McCaul said on Tuesday.

McCaul’s remarks came in response to recent comments made by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in which he called for the U.S. to reconsider Rahman’s imprisonment and entertain the possibility of allowing him to have family visitors.


“I want him to be free, but I respect the law and the rule of law in Egypt and the United States,” Morsi said in an interview on CNN’s "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

“Egypt's relationship with America deserves that these issues be reviewed, if that is OK according to the law. If it isn't possible — and I hope that it is possible — if it wasn't possible, then these humane aspects need to be taken into account for him to be in a humane prison, to be able to have visitors.”

Morsi said he plans to ask Obama personally about Rahman’s prison conditions and whether there is any possibility for his release when he visits the United States in the coming months.  

The Obama administration has repeatedly stressed that it has no intention of freeing Rahman from federal prison. But rumors to that effect sprang up last September after a news article said the unrest at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt was initially motivated by calls for “the blind sheik’s” release.

A group of eight top-ranking House Republicans wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder with a similar plea, asking the administration not to consider Rahman’s release. 

Rahman was convicted for his role in planning an attack on New York City in 1993 and is serving a life sentence, but he remains popular in Egypt, where a group of supporters continue to call for his freedom.