New York political leaders are voicing outrage at Egypt’s next president after he promised to fight to free a terrorist linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a later plot to blow up New York City landmarks.
President-elect Mohammed Morsi told a crowd in Tahrir Square he wants convicted terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman released from a United States prison. “I see signs for Omar Abdel Rahman and detainees pictures,” Morsi said. “It is my duty and I will make all efforts to have them free, including Omar Abdel Rahman.”
Rahman is serving a life sentence for his role in a plot to blow up the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the United Nations and other targets in the 1990s. He has also been linked to the first World Trade Center bombing that killed six and injured more than a thousand.
New York politicians blasted Morsi’s comments Friday.
“President Morsi’s offensive statements are an insult to the memories of the victims of the World Trade Center bombing,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “Sheik Rahman is a terrorist who planned to kill innocent Americans, rest assured he will stay right where he belongs -- in jail for the rest of his life.”
Egypt counts on billions of dollars in aid from the United States, and a State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Morsi’s speech.
But Rep. Peter King, R-NY, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, called Morsi’s speech “evidence that he is an Islamist and a radical who cannot be trusted.”
"This is a disgraceful way for him to start his presidency," King added.
Tri-state leaders said Morsi’s comments are raising serious questions as to what kind of leader he will be.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called Morsi’s statement “…not only outrageous, but it is cause for deep concern about Mohammed Morsi’s respect for the rule of law and democracy. Any attempt to free this convicted terrorist must be met with swift condemnation.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said the U.S. will never free the sheik.
“Omar Abdel-Rahman is a terrorist with American blood on his hands and he will serve the rest of his life in detention," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Egyptian consulate in New York declined to comment. But NBC News Correspondent Aymen Mohyeldin, who was in Cairo for the speech, said Morsi went off script to make the comments and was likely making the statements for domestic consumption – not to anger the United States.
“The Muslim Brotherhood, and Morsi now, are taking the position he be released on humanitarian extradition more so than overturning his conviction,” Moyeldin said. Muslim Brotherhood leaders are saying Morsi does not plan to repeat the comments in his address Saturday and has condemned acts of terror against the West in the past.
Rahman is in ailing health in a North Carolina prison. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, except to say the "Blind Sheik" remains behind bars.
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