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U.S. Lawyer Accused of Aiding Imprisoned Cleric in Terror Plot


NEW YORK — A defense lawyer and three others were indicted Tuesday for allegedly enabling a blind Egyptian cleric to run a violent Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization from his U.S. prison cell by helping him communicate with his followers around the world.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said that attorney Lynne F. Stewart conspired to help her longtime client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, maintain his influence over the Islamic Group even though he has been in virtual lock-down since 1995, when he was convicted of seditious conspiracy in plotting to destroy New York City landmarks.

Abdel Rahman has most recently been housed in a maximum-security medical prison in Minnesota. He is not allowed to communicate with his followers, the media or anyone except his lawyer because of authorities' concerns that he may be conspiring in efforts to commit more acts of terrorism.

Stewart, 62, has represented a series of Islamic militants, accused cop killers and Mafioso-turned-informant Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano. Earlier this year, she announced that she would represent Abdel Rahman's son Ahmed, who was captured in Afghanistan in November and accused of being a liaison between the Islamic Group and Al Qaeda.

Also indicted were Arabic interpreter Mohammed Yousry, and Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Yassir Al-Sirri, described in court papers as active members of Islamic Group, or Gama'a al-Islamiyya. The organization has claimed responsibility for the 1997 slaying of 58 tourists at an Egyptian archeological site and other bloody terrorist attacks.

According to the indictment, Abdel Rahman relied on communications with Stewart, translated by Yousry, to pass messages to and receive messages from Sattar, Al-Sirri and other Islamic Group members, including discussions of potential terrorist activities in Egypt.

Although Abdel Rahman, 63, was not charged on Tuesday--he is serving a term of life in prison without parole--Ashcroft accused the religious leader of adhering to the principles of Al Qaeda, an affiliated terrorist organization run by one of the sheik's most vocal supporters, Osama bin Laden.

Al Qaeda's official training manual, Ashcroft said, states that imprisoned Islamic jihadists, or holy warriors, should continue their terrorist operations by surreptitiously exchanging information with those on the outside and even getting coded directives out to them.

"As today's indictment sets forth, Sheik Abdel Rahman has learned Al Qaeda's lessons well," Ashcroft said. "Sheik Rahman is determined to exploit the rights guaranteed him under the United States' system of justice to pursue the destruction of that very system. The United States cannot, and will not, stand by and allow this to happen."

Abdel Rahman could not have maintained his leadership role in the Islamic Group, Ashcroft said, without the "willful and repeated assistance" of Stewart and the three others indicted. He described Sattar and Al-Sirri as vital links between the blind sheik and his fervent followers worldwide.

FBI agents arrested Stewart, Yousry and Sattar on Tuesday, searched their homes and offices and seized computers and other records. Al-Sirri, the head of the London-based Islamic Observation Center, has been in custody there since his arrest on terrorism charges in October 2001.

Late Tuesday, Stewart was arraigned at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan that was attended by more than 40 supporters, many of them defense lawyers who said they were irate that their legal colleague had been arrested.

Stewart was asked by U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl how she would plead.

"Emphatically not guilty," Stewart said. She was released on $500,000 bond. Yousry and Sattar also pleaded not guilty; Yousry made $750,000 bond but Sattar was denied bail.

Leaving the courthouse, Stewart said to reporters, "Are they going to arrest the lady who cleans the sheik's cell? It goes too far." The other defendants could not be reached for comment.

Stewart faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted on all counts with the sentences served sequentially; the others could receive between 35 and 55 years. All were charged with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization; other charges filed against various defendants included conspiracy to defraud, solicitation and making false statements.

On one occasion in May 2000, the indictment alleges, Stewart visited Abdel Rahman at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., and discussed with him whether the Islamic Group should continue to comply with a 2-year-old cease-fire agreement with Egyptian authorities.

Following that meeting, Stewart told the media that Abdel Rahman had withdrawn his support for the cease-fire, in effect communicating his wishes to his followers, according to the indictment.

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