WASHINGTON (AP) – Terrorist cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, sentenced in connection with a plot to blow up New York City landmarks and kill Egypt’s president, may be nearing death – leading to fears that his demise could trigger an attack on the United States, officials said Thursday.

There is no credible indication that an attack on the U.S. is imminent, said several law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

Abdel-Rahman was also considered the spiritual leader of several men who bombed New York’s World Trade Center in February, 1993.

In a two-page bulletin, dated Dec. 8, the FBI reported to federal intelligence officials that the blind sheik was rushed from prison to a Missouri hospital two days earlier for a blood transfusion. There, doctors discovered a tumor on Abdel-Rahman’s liver, according to the bulletin, which was described to The Associated Press by a law enforcement official.

Officials said the bulletin served merely as a reminder that Abdel-Rahman had called for retaliation by terrorism sympathizers if he died in prison. It cited a May 1998 press conference where al-Qaida members distributed his last will and testament, in which Abdel-Rahman pleaded for followers to “extract the most violent revenge” should he die in U.S. custody.

The FBI did not have immediate comment on Thursday. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the sheik’s lawyer, did not immediately return a telephone message for comment.

In a video in September marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaida’s No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, cited the continuing imprisonment of the sheik.

“I call on every Muslim to make use of every opportunity afforded him to take revenge on America for its imprisonment of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman,” he said.

Abdel-Rahman, 68, was sentenced to life in prison after his 1995 conviction for his advisory role in the plot to blow up New York City landmarks, including the United Nations, and in a plot to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Though he had multiple health problems including heart disease and diabetes when he was arrested in 1993, his health has deteriorated further in recent years. He was transferred in September 2003 from the federal Supermax prison in Colorado, where the country’s most notorious inmates are held, to the U.S. Medical Center for Prisons in Springfield, Mo. Prisons officials have said Abdel-Rahman’s diabetes has threatened him with the loss of his limbs.

Born in the village of Al Gamalia, Egypt, Abdel-Rahman says in his autobiography that he memorized the Koran by age 11. He attended Al Azar University in Cairo, then began preaching. By the time of his arrest in the United States, he had two wives and 13 children.

In 1970, he began a long conflict with the Egyptian government when he was jailed for eight months after telling people it would be sinful to pray for the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser because he was an infidel.

In 1981, the assassination of President Anwar Sadat drew attention to the group blamed for the killing, the Jihad Organization.

Abdel-Rahman was accused of leading the group and issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for Sadat’s assassination. He lectured the court on his religious views and was acquitted.

In the late 1980s, he became the spiritual leader of thousands of men who fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan with help from the Central Intelligence Agency.

In 1990, the sheik, already a blind diabetic with a bad heart, arrived in the United States.

though he was on a list of suspected terrorists and thus banned from the country.

He settled in Jersey City, N.J., and began traveling around the United States and Canada preaching strict adherence to Islamic law, which includes such punishments for adultery as 100 lashes or even death.

After he was sentenced to life in prison, he continued to be represented by several lawyers, including Clark and Lynne Stewart, a civil rights lawyer who insisted Abdel-Rahman was unfairly convicted for his words rather than his deeds.

In October, Stewart was sentenced in Manhattan to two years and four months in prison for her conviction on a conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism charge for announcing Abdel-Rahman’s opinions about a ceasefire by Islamic militants in Egypt at a time when the sheik was no longer permitted to communicate with the outside world.

An Arabic interpreter for the sheik was sentenced to a year and eight months in prison and a former paralegal for the sheik was sentenced to 24 years in prison in the plot.



Associated Press Writer Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.

AP-ES-12-14-06 1441EST


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