The head of the House Homeland Security Committee is urging President Obama not to cave in to renewed pleas by Egypt’s president to release the “Blind Sheikh” – a convicted terrorist who “has American blood on his hands.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, asked Obama to stand firm on the issue and warned that releasing Omar Abdel Rahman would be “seen as a major sign of weakness throughout the Muslim extremist world.”
State Department officials, though, tell FoxNews.com there is no discussion of Rahman being freed and categorize recent chatter as “empty talk.”
“There are no plans to release the Blind Sheik or transfer him to Egypt,” State Department Spokesman Noel Clay said. “Reports to the contrary are absolutely false.”
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi fueled the speculation recently by saying he’d continue to work toward the release of Rahman, an Egyptian-born militant Islamist, even making his case directly to Obama.
Rahman, who is blind, was convicted for his role in supporting the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; plotting to attack the United Nations, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels; and plotting to assassinate then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., and current Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
“I want him to be free, but I respect the law and the rule of law in Egypt and the United States,” Morsi said during an interview with CNN.
Morsi added that he would ask Obama during a March meeting at the White House to release Rahman on humanitarian grounds or at least ease prison restrictions.
“There could be things like visitation, assistance, his children, his family, assisting him,” Morsi said. “He is an old sheikh and sick and blind. We need to respect that in this sheikh.”
McCaul, a former federal prosecutor and counterterrorism expert, fired back and said releasing Rahman would “only serve to embolden our enemies who continue to plot against us.”
McCaul’s comments align with those made by his predecessor as committee chairman, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. King told Fox News on Thursday that the president should not even "contemplate" Morsi's request, expressing concern that releasing Rahman may have been under consideration. He urged Obama to say "clearly, unequivocally" that Rahman will not be released.
Rahman, considered one of the world’s leading theologians of terrorism, is currently serving a life sentence in a maximum-security federal prison in Butner, N.C.
Chris Burke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said he is unaware of the federal prison system ever releasing an inmate serving a life sentence at the request of a foreign leader.
Michael Mukasey, the federal judge who sentenced Rahman to life in prison, said transferring him “to an Egypt already under control of the Muslim Brotherhood and presided over by Mohammed Morsi would be pouring gasoline on a bonfire.”
Mukasey, who served as U.S. attorney general from 2007-2009 and as a district judge from 1988 to 2006, said even considering a transfer or release would be a “gross betrayal of public trust.”
Morsi’s calls to free Rahman began almost immediately after being elected president. In his acceptance speech in Cairo, Morsi said he’d work for Rahman’s release.
“It is my duty and I will make all efforts to have them free, including Omar Abdel Rahman,” Morsi said.
The Obama administration has said publicly all along that it is not considering the appeals.