The Justice Department yesterday indicted a leading civil rights attorney on charges of supporting terrorism. Attorney General John Ashcroft accused Manhattan attorney Lynne Stewart, her translator, and two others of helping her client Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman deliver messages from his Minnesota prison cell to his followers in Egypt.
In 1995, Sheik Rahman was accused of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison for plotting to attack the UN and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Two years later, he was barred from sending or receiving written or recorded messages of any kind from his prison cell. If his lawyers wanted to meet with him, they had to pledge to discuss only legal matters.
But according to John Ashcroft, Stewart broke this rule by helping Rahman deliver coded messages to the members of his organization in Egypt. He says she allowed a translator to read and reply to letters sent by Rahman’s followers. Ashcroft claims some of these letters advocated the resumption of "military operations" in Egypt. The Attorney General could not cite a single specific terrorist act that resulted from these communications, but he called them "very important signaling to the Islamic Group.
Stewart, her translator, and two others face possible sentences of five to 20 years. Stewart was indicted Tuesday afternoon and released on $500,000 personal recognizance bond.
The indictment also charges Mohammed Yousry, her Arabic interpreter, and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a postal worker from Staten Island. Yousry’s bond was set at $750,000. Sattar was held without bail. A fourth man, Yassi al-Sirri, the head of the London based Islamic Observations Center, is being held in Britain after his arrest in October. Stewart said: "They’ve arrested the lawyer and the interpreter. How much further are they going? Are they going to arrest the lady that cleans the sheik’s cell?"
- Lynne Stewart, civil rights attorney