NEW YORK – A lawyer and two co-defendants helped an imprisoned Egyptian sheik commit a sort of "jailbreak" by allowing him to get around prison rules and feed messages to terrorists overseas, a prosecutor told a federal jury Wednesday.
In his closing argument, assistant U.S. attorney Andrew Dember asked the jury to convict the three of a conspiracy to overcome the government's effort to silence the still "powerful and influential" prisoner, Omar Abdel-Rahman.
Civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart and her co-defendants, Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Mohamed Yousry, testified they obeyed the law in the work they did for Abdel-Rahman.
The blind sheik, who entered the United States in 1990, is serving a life prison sentence for his 1995 conviction for inspiring plots to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (search) and blow up New York City landmarks.
Dember told jurors the three defendants in effect "broke Abdel-Rahman out of jail, made him available to the worst kind of criminal we find in this world — terrorists."
Stewart represented Abdel-Rahman at his trial, while Sattar served as a paralegal. Until their 2002 arrests, Stewart and Yousry, an Arabic translator, continued working on the sheik's legal team while Sattar provided materials to read to the sheik.
The trial, which began with jury selection in May and opening statements in June, has been closely watched in part because of the rarity of a defense lawyer being prosecuted in federal court for actions she took on behalf of her client.
The case was expected to go to the jury next week. Sattar could face life in prison and Stewart and Yousry up to 20 years.
Dember warned jurors that the case was not about the Egyptian government, what the defendants thought about the government's effort to silence the sheik or the religion of Islam.
Those subjects arose as all three defendants testified in recent weeks, saying they kept the convicted sheik informed of world events but did not believe they had committed a crime. The extensive testimony by defendants is rare in a federal trial.
Prosecutors say Sattar brazenly used his telephone and fax machine to conspire with members of an Egyptian terrorist group to kidnap and kill people overseas. They say Stewart and Yousry conspired to provide material support to terrorists.
But Stewart said she felt an ethical obligation as a lawyer to keep the sheik's name and views relevant worldwide so he might someday be transferred to Egyptian prisons, where he would be watched by prison officers who know his language and traditions.
Yousry conceded on the stand that he was not immediately forthcoming with FBI agents who interviewed him after the 2001 terrorist attacks, but said he was worried about the "climate in the country" and how he would be viewed for his work for the sheik.