London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The wife of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the spiritual leader of Gamma Islamiya, the Egyptian militant Islamic group, serving a life sentence for his role in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, revealed that her husband’s health was rapidly deteriorating as he was suffering from a number of long-term illnesses due to the lack of medical supervision in prison in the United States.
In an interview with the “Shouhoud” (witnesses) website run by Muntasser al Zayat, a lawyer for Islamic militants, Aisha said her husband was held in solitary confinement after being moved from the medical center in Rochester, Minnesota, to a high-security prison in Colorado and later to Springfield, where was not allowed to receive any visits.
Married twice, Sheikh Abdel Rahman, has thirteen children, of which ten are with Aisha. They are, Abdullah, Fatima, Abdul Rahman, Osama, Hassan, Ammar, Khaled, Ibrahim, Khadija, Asmaa, and Sumaya.
All Zayyat indicated that he personally intervened with Aisha and persuaded her to discuss her husband’s condition with the media after speaking to the blind cleric his prison cell. He also proposed Aisha agree to be photographed with her sons and daughter wearing the niqab (veil covering the face) to add a human touch to her story.
“I convinced her of the importance of speaking to the media about the Sheikh’s story at a time when he is under extraordinary pressure in jail.” I compiled a list of questions for her to answer and allowed her the freedom to add a few others as he saw fight.” Aisha had categorically opposed having her picture taken but agreed after consulting her husband.
Speaking to Asharq al Awsat, al Zayyat confirmed that the blind Sheikh’s wife was Egyptian, adding that Abdul Rahman had never married a US citizen, “as was alleged by Egyptian security and media circles alleged.” The family, he added, currently lives in al Umraniya in Egypt.
The cleric’s son Hassan, aged 24 and a computer engineer, confirmed age was taking its toll on his father as his health continued to deteriorate.
Despite the difficult psychological conditions in the prison, Hassan denied his father was suffering from memory loss. Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, Sheikh Abdul Rahman has been living in total seclusion and suffering from diabetes, which has caused him to lose all feeling in his limbs, especially his hands, making reading by Braille impossible. He was also very frail as a result of high blood pressure and chronic respiratory problems.
Recalling her sole visit to her husband in his US jail, Aisha, said, “Conditions inside the jail are very bad. The Sheikh is under constant surveillance with a number of cameras following his every move, 24 hours a day. He even has to wash his own underwear.”
She complained that her husband lacked “someone to organize his belongings. He has no one to speak to, day or night, and no Muslim or Arabic-speaking prisoner to relate to. He is always on his own.”
Claiming the cleric was a victim of racial discrimination, Aisha added, “If an other prisoner called the guards, they immediately attend to his needs. My husband, however, knocks on his cell door for hours and to no avail.” Sheikh Omar, Aisha continued, had not been allowed to pray on Fridays, despite the claims by the US authorities that they believed in one’s “freedom of ideology and religion.”
The Al Azhar scholar, who has a doctorate in the science of the Quran with distinction and spent forty years lecturing about Islam, has been reduced to a “crazy person” as guards believed he suffered from mental illnesses.
Describing her visit, Aisha said prison guards had informed her “You will not be able to shake his hand and the meeting will be record.” She remembers entering “the room from one door while Abdul Rahman entered from another. We sat on either side of a large table, with about 2meters separating us. Every time I spoke to my husband, I had to raise my voice so the guards and everyone else present in the room could hear me.”
Abdul Rahman’s wife categorically denied her husband was involved in activities against the Egyptian regime. In fact, she said, he had been acquitted of any wrongdoing.
“He was falsely accused of being connected to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat and the incidents that followed in Asyut because of a fatwa he had declared allowing the blood of Sadat to be spilled. He was tired by the military court in case 7/1981 and discharged after proof emerged he did not take any part in the assassination.”
A year later, she added, the security services wrongly suspected Shiekh Abdul Rahman of being the “Emir” (leader) of the Gamaa Islamiya. He was tried in case 462/1982 and found in court to have no relation with the above group or Islamic Jihad as well as not being involved in any way in the pronouncement and actions of members of both groups, his wife alleged.
After traveling to the US to continue preaching and settling at the al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn in New York City , he attracted the attention of the Jewish lobby in the city which did not agree with his activities. Aisha claimed her husband was framed and falsely accused of bombing the World trade Center and other activities and sentenced to life behind bars.
In the last letter she received from Sheikh Omar, Aisha said he complained of feeling under siege as no information from the outside reached him in solitary confinement. As no Arabic speakers were ever present at his side Aisha feared he would break down mentally were it not for reading the Quran.
In his letter, Abdul Rahman wrote, “I am cut off from the outside world. No one knows what [the guards and prison authority] are putting in my food or drink; they might want me to die a slow death. They might be adding poison to the food or medicine. I might be given some bad outdated medicine or drugs that kill me or kill my sanity.”
Lately, he added, “I have noticed strange odors from the floor above my cell as well as a continuous “Woosh” sound, similar to that of an outdated air-conditioning unit, as well as knocking and thumping noises, similar to that of explosives, day and night…”
He expressed his fears that the prison authorities would “make up lies and excuses and no one would believe my fears. They are experts at lying.”
The family of Sheikh Abdul Rahman, Aisha revealed, had petitioned President George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the Egyptian authorities seeking to free the cleric.