Indictments outline government's case
Two of the suspects visited Rochester prison
By Angela Greiling Keane
WASHINGTON -- The document detailing the federal government's case against four cohorts of a convicted Islamic cleric reads more like a movie script than a government tome.
The 24-page indictment describes the characters, props and plot involved in a story of international magnitude that took place largely in southeast Rochester.
The Justice Department released the document on Tuesday when it indicted four people on five counts of aiding a group known as the Islamic Group, which the U.S. government has identified as a terrorist organization.
The paperwork states that face-to-face contact took place in Rochester at the Federal Medical Center, where Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman was sent in early 1998. Abdel-Rahman was convicted of conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993 and of plotting other terrorist attacks that were not carried out.
While imprisoned in Rochester, two of the people who were indicted met with the sheik on multiple occasions, as documented by the Justice Department. Lynne Stewart, Abdel Rahman's longtime lawyer, and Mohammed Yousry, an Arabic-English translator, both traveled to Rochester to meet with Abdel-Rahman.
Although Abdel-Rahman had an extremely limited list of people with whom he could have contact, Stewart, as his attorney, and Yousry, as the translator, were among them.
During their visits, the government charged, the trio talked about topics that were forbidden, including numerous conversations about running the Islamic Group.
Minneapolis attorney William Michael Jr., who grew up in Rochester and is a former assistant U.S. attorney, said the indictment is significant, because of the story it tells.
"I think it's important because it shows that although Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman was convicted and put in jail, he is still running the Islamic Group and issuing orders around the world," Michael said. "And it's also important because it shows the level they go to continue these communications."
Michael said it is clear from reading the indictment that investigators used wiretaps and other recording devices to gather evidence in this case. Although Congress changed laws following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to make it easier for law enforcement officials to use recording methods, most of the evidence in this case was gathered before Sept. 11.
The indictment states that Stewart at various times lied to Federal Medical Center personnel about what the group discussed, and she at times spoke loudly in English to drown out conversations in Arabic between Abdel-Rahman and Yousry.
In addition to setting up the case against the four defendants, the indictment also puts the Islamic Group and Abdel-Rahman's role in it into perspective.
The organization claimed responsibility for killing 62 people at an Egyptian tourist site in 1997, scattering leaflets calling for the release of Abdel-Rahman in the aftermath.
According to the indictment, the assassins slit the torso of one of the dead and inserted a leaflet into the body.
In the United States, the group operates primarily out of New York City.