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'Blind sheikh' Abdel-Rahman dies in US prison

The longtime face of radical Islam has died at 78 while serving a life sentence on conspiracy charges. Abdel-Rahman was an associate of Osama bin Laden and linked to numerous violent attacks around the world.

Authorities in the US state of North Carolina confirmed on Saturday that extremist cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman had died of natural causes at the age of 78. Known as "the blind sheikh," Abdel-Rahman was for many the face of radical Islam in the 1980s and 1990s and has been linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Born in al-Gamalia, Egypt, in 1938, Abel-Rahman became blind when he was only 10 months old following complications from childhood diabetes. Not long after graduating from university, he became well known for his fiery speeches against Egyptian secularism and developed ties with several radical Islamist networks and their leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

He was then briefly imprisoned in Egypt following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, as Abdel-Rahman had been calling for his followers to kill Sadat for years. Although he was acquitted of conspiracy, he was forced to go into exile afterward.

Report CIA gave Abdel-Rahman US visa

Despite being on a State Department blacklist, he was granted a tourist visa by the US Embassy in Sudan in 1990. Authorities have since blamed a computer error for the mistake, but "The New York Times" newspaper later reported that the CIA approved his visa specifically because Abdel-Rahman had supported the anti-Soviet mujahedin in Afghanistan.

He then began preaching his radical interpretation of Islam around New York City and New Jersey, cultivating a legion of supporters. He was subsequently associated with a number of violent attacks both within the United States and other countries, most notably the 1993 bombing of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000.

He was arrested in June 1993 after the FBI obtained recordings of Abdel-Rahman suggesting a new attack that would hit several New York targets, including the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the George Washington Bridge.

The cleric was found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996, and died in the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina after suffering from diabetes and coronary artery disease.

es/sms (AP, Reuters)

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