The Tribute in Light above the New York skyline and One World Trade Center (L) is seen from Jersy City, New Jersey, the United States of America, Sept. 11, 2015. It was the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on Friday. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian-born radical cleric serving a life sentence for plotting the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center and other terror attacks in New York, died at age 78 in a U.S. prison Saturday morning, said the authorities.
Abdel-Rahman died from natural causes in the federal correctional complex in Butner, North Carolina, said Greg Norton, the prison’s spokesman.
He had battled diabetes and coronary heart disease for years, Norton was quoted by local media reports.
He was regarded as one of the most influential and fearsome theologians of the Islamist fundamentalism that swept the Middle East in recent decades.
Known as “the Blind Sheikh,” Abdel-Rahman lost his eyesight when he was 10 months old. By the time he was 11 years old, he had memorized the Braille version of the Qur’an and was sent to an Islamic boarding school.
He went on to study at Cairo University’s School of Theology and later earned a doctorate in from Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Abdel-Rahman went on to become one of the country’s most prominent and outspoken Muslim clerics to denounce Egypt’s secularism.
In the mid-1980s, Abdel-Rahman made his way to Afghanistan, where he built a strong rapport with former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The cleric came to the United States in 1990 and began teaching in a New Jersey mosque.
The February 1993 attack, in which a bomb exploded in a parking garage under 2 World Trade Center, killed six and injured more than 1000 people. Some suspects were found to have frequented the New Jersey mosque where he preached.
He was indicted in August 1993 for involvement in a broader terrorist plot that included the World Trade Center bombing and other attempted attacks in New York.
In October 1995, he was found guilty of guiding a conspiracy to wage “a war of urban terrorism” and sentenced to life in prison.
Bin Laden once credited Abdel-Rahman as the inspiration and justification for the September 11, 2001 attacks which destroyed the Manhattan landmark, said a Fox News report.