Sheikh attacks media over Trade Center bombing reports: Cleric linked by press to New York blast breaks his silence

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The Independent Online
THE blind Egyptian Islamic cleric whom reports in the United States have linked with the bombing at the World Trade Center has appeared on television before millions of Americans to deny any involvement.

After three weeks of silence, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman gave a series of interviews in which he roundly denounced the media for reporting that he was a suspect for the bombing in New York, which killed six people and injured more than a thousand.

The 55-year-old sheikh, whom Washington wants to deport, denied knowing either Mohammed Salameh, 25, the Palestinian now in custody who rented the van that allegedly carried explosives to the centre, or Mahmud Abouhalima, whom authorities accuse of masterminding the attack.

US investigators have claimed that Mr Abouhalima, a German national of Egyptian origin who is still missing, has been Mr Abdul Rahman's driver and bodyguard for some months, but the sheikh said on CNN television: 'I don't know him, and I don't know where he is, and I never had a car, so how can he drive me?'

Speaking in Los Angeles, the sheikh accused the US media of being 'controlled and racist' and of publishing his photograph 'hundreds of times', accusing him unjustifiably of being a terrorist. The cleric, who is known for his fiery anti-US rhetoric, said that his mission was to challenge the regime of the Hosni Mubarak. He regards the Egyptian President as failing to enforce Islamic principles and thinks he deserves to meet the same fate as President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981.

Since his arrival in the US three years ago, initially on a tourist visa, Mr Abdel Rahman has acquired a reputation for giving inflammatory sermons in his New Jersey mosque, which is frequented by radical young Muslims, reportedly including suspects in the bombing. The authorities want to deport him, ostensibly because he failed to disclose on his residency application that he was a polygamist and has a conviction in Egypt for falsifying a cheque.

As Mr Abdel Rahman launched his publicity offensive in Los Angeles, the New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, led the first group of tenants back into one of the twin towers of the Center, which was badly damaged in the bombing on 26 February.

(Photograph omitted)