Civil rights lawyer convicted of aiding terror by passing jailed client's messages to followers

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The Independent Online
A VETERAN civil rights lawyer was convicted yesterday of smuggling messages of violence from one of her jailed clients - a radical Egyptian sheikh - to his militant followers.

The jury in New York deliberated for 13 days before convicting Lynne Stewart, 65, a left-wing activist known for representing radicals and revolutionaries during her 30-year career. She faces up to 20 years in prison on charges that include conspiracy, giving material support to terrorists and defrauding the US government.

Minutes before the verdict was read, Stewart said she felt "nervous. I'm scared, worried". When she heard the pronouncement, Stewart began shaking her head and wiping her eyes. The courtroom was filled with her supporters, who gasped. She will remain free on bail, but must stay in New York, until she is sentenced on 15 July.

The trial focused attention on the line between zealous advocacy and criminal behaviour by a lawyer. Some defence lawyers saw the case as a government warning to lawyers to tread carefully in terrorism cases.

The jury also convicted a postal worker, Ahmed Sattar, of plotting to "kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country" by publishing an edict urging the killing of Jews and their supporters. A third defendant, Mohamed Yousry, an interpreter, was convicted of providing material support to terrorists. Sattar could face life in prison and Yousry up to 20 years.

Stewart was the lawyer for Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind cleric who was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for conspiring to assassinate the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, and destroy several New York landmarks, including the UN building and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. Stewart's co-defendants also had close ties to Abdel-Rahman.

Prosecutors said that Stewart and the others carried messages between Abdel-Rahman and senior members of a Egyptian-based terrorist organisation, helping to spread Abdel- Rahman's call to kill those who did not subscribe to his extremist interpretation of Islamic law.

At the time, Abdel-Rahman was in solitary confinement in Minnesota under special prison rules to keep him from communicating with anyone except his wife and his lawyers.

Andrew Dember, for the prosecution, argued that Stewart and her co-defendants essentially "broke Abdel-Rahman out of jail [and] made him available to the worst kind of criminal we find in this world - terrorists".

Stewart, who once represented Weather Underground radicals, maintained she was unfairly targeted by overzealous prosecutors. But she also testified that she believed violence was sometimes necessary to achieve justice: "To rid ourselves of the entrenched, voracious type of capitalism that is in this country that perpetuates sexism and racism, I don't think that can come non-violently."

A key part of the prosecution's case was Stewart's release, in 2000, of a statement withdrawing Abdel-Rahman's support for a ceasefire in Egypt by his militant followers. But prosecutors could point to no violence that resulted from the statement.

Videotapes of prison conversations between Stewart and her client were also played for jurors - recordings the defence denounced as an intrusion into attorney-client privilege. (AP)