NEW YORK (AP) _ In his first interview since being charged with conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman blames Egypt and a compliant America for the charges he now faces.
″The American government bowed to the political pressure. The Egyptian regime just ordered and the American government just rushed to obey,″ the Muslim cleric said Tuesday in an interview with several journalists at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
″This is a shame that history will never forgive,″ he said.
Abdel-Rahman, 55, is charged with leading at least 15 men in planning a series of bombings, kidnappings and murders. He is being held without bond pending a trial in Federal Court.
Abdel-Rahman said the U.S. government had created the conspiracy with the help of Emad Salem, a government witness.
″I’m not a conspirator,″ he said.
The plot allegedly included the Feb. 26 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000. Later bombings were planned at the United Nations, FBI offices in New York and tunnels and a bridge linking New York and New Jersey, prosecutors say.
″How can we conspire against America while the American people were very generous to us and they accepted us here?″ Abdel-Rahman said. ″We don’t conspire against America. How can we conspire on this nation while we are here enjoying their water and their food?″
Abdel-Rahman entered the United States in 1990 on a visa that had been granted in the Sudan. He said it was pressure from Egypt that prompted the United States to arrest him. Muslim followers of Abdel-Rahman have been linked to a violent campaign to overthrow the Egyptian government and create an Islamic state.
Abdel-Rahman lashed out at Salem, the government’s key witness in the conspiracy trial. Salem was a government informant while he assisted the sheik, taping hundreds of hours of conversations with men who were later arrested in the terrorism plot.
The sheik called Salem, who used to guide him by the arm while he walked, ″a non-Muslim, an atheist, and he is retracted from Islam.″ He also called him a ″double agent.″
Abdel-Rahman would not answer questions about his trial. He spoke through a translator he had chosen, and at least once the translator refused to relay Abdel-Rahman’s answer to a question.
No date has been set for the conspiracy trial, which is separate from the current trial of four men charged in the Trade Center blast.
Wearing green prison garb and his familiar red-and-white cap, Abdel-Rahman seemed to welcome the chance to talk to visitors. ″Days and night I don’t speak to anybody, and nobody speaks to me,″ he said.
He said he wants to show that Islam is not ″a terrorist’s religion.″
″We don’t approve killing innocent people and destroying public or general properties,″ he said. ″We never make any threats against innocent people.″
He did, however, say it was right for Muslims to fight the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He said that government had raided the nation’s treasury, thrown thousands of people in jail for no reason and committed other crimes that prevented freedom.
These acts ″give the people the right to rise against a government,″ Abdel-Rahman said.
″You’ll never see that here in America,″ he said.