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Egyptian leader vows to free 'Blind Sheik' jailed in US; senator objects

Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric jailed for life over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is shown at a 1993 press conference.
Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric jailed for life over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is shown at a 1993 press conference.Hai Do / AFP - Getty Images file

On the eve of his inauguration, Egyptian president-elect Mohammed Morsi pledged before tens of thousands of Islamist followers on Friday to free the “Blind Sheik” jailed in the U.S. for a plot to bomb New York City landmarks.

Morsi, Egypt’s first Islamist and civilian president-elect, promised to work for the release of convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman, the militant Egyptian cleric currently serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Morsi, 60, also promised to free the detained Egyptian protesters facing military tribunals.

“I will do everything in my power to secure the freedom of detainees, including Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman,” Morsi said in his first speech to the nation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the Telegraph reported. 

New York-area politicians condemn Egypt's new leader over vow to free terrorist

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Rahman isn’t going anywhere.

“President Morsi’s offensive statements are an insult to the memories of the victims of the World Trade Center bombing,” Schumer said in a prepared statement. “He is off to a very bad start. Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman is a terrorist who planned to killed innocent Americans, and rest assured he will stay right where he belongs  –  in jail for the rest of his life.”

Related: Post-revolution Egyptians to US: Stay out

Rahman is connected to a slew of terrorist attacks, including a plot to assassinate then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the slaughter of 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in Luxor in 1997, and a plan to set off five bombs in 10 minutes to blow up the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and a federal building housing the FBI.

Rahman was arrested in June 1993, along with nine of his followers. In October 1995, he was convicted of seditious conspiracy and was sentenced the next year to life in prison. 

Morsi, a U.S.-trained engineer who initially was a back-up candidate for the Muslin Brotherhood, underscored several times in his speech that the people were the source of power and decision-making, not the institutions. 

His spokesman, Yasser Ali, told the Associated Press the president-elect wants to stand with the thousands who have camped in the square for over a week to express concern about the power grabs.

"He wants to show unity with his people over issues of the transition, which is now ending," Ali said.

Many in the crowd were delighted by Morsi's speech, chanting "We love you Morsi" and "Oh marshal tell the truth, Morsi is your president, or not," referring to the head of the ruling military panel Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

This article includes reporting by The Associated Press.

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