Egypt seeks Sheikh's extradition from US: Washington will consider request to return fundamentalist

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The Independent Online
THE US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, confirmed yesterday that the Egyptian government is seeking to extradite Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Islamic cleric suspected of involvement in the recent wave of terrorist activity in New York.

Two days after Mr Abdel- Rahman surrendered himself to US immigration officials following a 20-hour stand-off outside a Brooklyn mosque, Mr Christopher suggested yesterday that consideration of the extradition request was 'under way'. Egypt's request for deportation would be processed 'in the normal way', he said. 'We will go about that in a prompt way. It's a procedure, though, that could take some time.'

Officials in New York said the cleric would be held in detention while the extradition issue was considered and immigration charges against him were taken up in US courts. Deportation itself, a complex legal process, could be many months away.

In an apparent reversal of its previous position, the Egyptian government is believed to have lodged the extradition request on Saturday during a meeting in Cairo between its Foreign Minister, Amr Mousa, and the US ambassador, Robert Pelletreau.

The sheikh, spiritual leader of a fundamentalist Islamic group dedicated to overthrowing the government of President Hosni Mubarak, is wanted in Egypt in connection with the attempted murder of two policemen, and on charges of inciting violence outside an Egyptian mosque in 1989. An Egyptian court re-issued an order for his arrest at the weekend.

The sheikh was taken into detention on Friday on immigration charges alone, after the US Attorney-General, Janet Reno, ruled that police had insufficient evidence to arrest him on any charges connecting him to recent terrorist activities in the New York area.

The Islamic group has already publicly threatened to wage a terror campaign against American expatriates and US targets in Egypt and elsewhere, and has claimed responsibility for recent attacks against foreign tourists in Egypt. The US State Department has issued a formal warning to American citizens to take special care in Egypt.

'The extradition by the US of Sheikh Omar would definitely spark a wave of violence by his followers,' his lawyer, Abdel- Halim Mandour, said yesterday.

Disciples of the 55-year-old sheikh, who is blind and suffers from diabetes, have already been charged in the US with bombing the World Trade Center in New York in February and conspiring to terrorise the city with a string of other bombings and political assassinations.

The sheikh entered the US in 1990 from Sudan on a visa which apparently should never have been issued because he was on a watchlist of undesirables. Last March a US judge ordered his deportation. An appeal by the sheikh against the ruling is now being heard in the courts.

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