Man convicted of 1993 World Trade Center bomb plot dies in Butner prison

February 18, 2017 GMT

The man convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bomb plot died early Saturday in the federal prison facility in Butner, according to NBC News.

Omar Abdel-Rahman, 78, also known as the Blind Sheikh, died at 5:40 a.m. in the Butner Medical Center from natural causes, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Rahman battled diabetes and coronary heart disease and has been in the Butner facility since Feb. 22, 2007.

The entrances of the prison were guarded by what appeared to be an armed tactical team following the announcement of Abdel-Rahman’s death, although a spokesman with the prison said they were not aware of any specific threats against the building.

Rahman was confined in federal custody since 1993. He was convicted in connection with inspiring terror plots, including the World Trade Center bombing and a later plot to blow up the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, among other New York City landmarks.

The Egyptian cleric was the spiritual leader of a group that was believed to have been behind other terror attacks, such as the killing of tourists in Luxor, Egypt in 1997.

Abdel-Rahman’s daughter, Asmaa, announced the death in a series of Arabic-language tweets: “We are saddened by your departure, father,” she wrote.

Abdel-Rahman was a key spiritual leader for a generation of Islamic militants and became a symbol for radicals during two decades in American prisons.

Blind since infancy from diabetes, Abdel-Rahman was the leader of one of Egypt’s most feared militant groups, the Gamaa Islamiya, which led a campaign of violence aimed at bringing down ex-President Hosni Mubarak.

Abdel-Rahman fled Egypt to the U.S. in 1990 and began teaching in a New Jersey mosque. A circle of his followers were convicted in the Feb. 26, 1993, truck bombing of New York’s World Trade Center that killed six people — eight years before al-Qaida’s suicide plane hijackers brought the towers down.

Later in 1993, Abdel-Rahman was arrested by authorities who accused him and others of conspiring to wage a string of bombings against the United Nations and other New York landmarks, including the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.

But since his imprisonment, Abdel-Rahman’s influence had been seen more as symbolic than that of a practical leader. His Gamaa Islamiya, which led a wave of violence in the 1990s, was crushed a decade ago, and its leaders, jailed in Egypt, declared a truce.

Abdel-Rahman’s activities pre-dated Osama bin Laden’s formation of al-Qaida in the late 1990s. But he was an influential figure in the generation of Islamic extremists that emerged from Egypt over the past two decades.