Four people have been indicted in New York for providing material support to an Egyptian-based terrorist organization, the Islamic Group. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft made the announcement in lower Manhattan Tuesday before he was to visit Ground Zero, one of the sites of the September 11 terrorist attack on America.
The defendants are charged with passing messages to the Islamic Group from Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, their spiritual leader. Sheik Abdel-Rahman is now serving a life sentence in the United States for conspiring to blow up five New York City landmarks in 1990s.
Among those arrested were Lynne Stewart, a Manhattan lawyer for the sheik, and an Arab translator, Mohammed Yousry. U.S. authorities say Ms. Stewart and the translator smuggled messages to the Islamic Group after visiting the sheik in prison.
U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft said there appeared at this time to be no connection between the sheik and the September 11 attacks, which have been blamed on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. But he said the new arrests are in the spirit of America's war against terrorism.
"Since America was attacked over six months ago, I have sought to assure the American people that the actions of the Department of Justice are carefully designed to target terrorists and protect the rights of Americans and their freedom. Today's actions pursue the same objectives with the same protections in mind," Mr. Ashcroft said.
Sheik Abdel-Rahman is under tight restrictions in his U.S. jail to prevent him from communicating what Attorney General Ashcroft called his "message of hate." Mr. Ashcroft said apparently the rules were not tight enough, and the Sheik will be subjected to the stronger curbs imposed after September 11.
"We will not look the other way when our institutions of justice are subverted. We will not ignore those who claim rights for themselves, while they seek to destroy the rights of others," he said.
The indictment alleges, among other things, that the sheik issued an order over a year ago calling on Muslims to kill Jews wherever they are.
While U.S. authorities denied making a connection between Sheik Abdel-Rahman and al-Qaeda, they say the Egypt-based Islamic Group is known to have forged ties with other terrorist organizations. And the sheik is also alleged to have used an al-Qaeda guidebook to send his messages out of prison.
The other two people indicted were identified as Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a New York man said to be a "surrogate" for Sheik Abdel-Rahman. The other is Yassir Al-Sirri, the former head of the London-based Islamic Observation Center, who is in custody in the United Kingdom.