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Defense attorney Lynne Stewart was hit with new charges on Nov. 19 that she provided material support to terrorists. Four months after a federal judge dismissed material support charges against Stewart as unconstitutionally vague, Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. Attorney James Comey in New York announced a reframed indictment that charges her and her co-defendants with aiding a plot to kidnap and kill people to help win the release of her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. The federal charges arise from her actions while visiting Sheikh Abdel Rahman in prison, where he is serving a life sentence for sedition for his role in conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In July, Judge John Koeltl of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had ruled that the indictment against Stewart and co-defendants Ahmed Abdel Sattar, an ally of the sheikh, and Mohammed Yousry, a translator, for providing material support under 18 U.S.C. §2339B must be dismissed. Under that charge, the defendants were accused of providing “communications equipment,” such as phones and faxes, and “personnel” — that is, themselves and each other — to the federally designated terror organization Islamic Group. Judge Koeltl’s decision left Stewart facing charges that she conspired to defraud the United States by violating Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) imposed on the sheikh by the Bureau of Prisons to prevent him from communicating with his followers in the Egypt-based Islamic Group. The ruling meant that Stewart — who has protested her innocence and whose case has drawn strong support among other defense lawyers — was also left to defend a charge of making false statements when she signed an affirmation promising to abide by the SAMs, and then proceeding to help the sheikh pass messages to the group. The superseding indictment filed in the Southern District on Nov. 19 attaches new material support counts to some of the same conduct underlying the initial indictment. During a May 2000 prison visit, Yousry read communications from Sattar to the sheikh while Stewart concealed this activity from prison guards, prosecutors contend. Stewart was supposed to confine her discussions with the sheikh to legal matters, with Yousry interpreting. She also allegedly made extraneous comments to cover the conversation, and confided to Yousry that she should “get an award” for acting. In addition, Stewart is accused of releasing a statement to the press communicating the sheikh’s withdrawal from a cease-fire suspending terror acts by Islamic Group. Also, according to the new indictment, Stewart in a July 2001 prison visit allegedly made more “covering noises” while Yousry conveyed to the sheikh that the U.S.S. Cole was bombed on his behalf, and that Sattar had been asked to convey to the U.S. government that more acts of terror would follow unless the sheikh is released. Comey, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District, said in a statement that the new charges were based on 18 U.S.C. §2339A, which makes it a crime to provide or conceal “material support or resources . . . knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for,” or in carrying out, a specific act of terrorism, “or in preparation for, or in carrying out, the concealment or an escape from the commission of any such” crime. The superseding indictment, Comey said, “rests on a new legal foundation” in that it alleges that “Stewart and Yousry ‘provided’ and ‘concealed’ Abdel Rahman as ‘personnel’ to a conspiracy to kill and kidnap people outside of the United States.” Comey said the new charges were added after “careful review” of Judge Koeltl’s decision and a “further reexamination of the evidence” gathered against Stewart, Sattar, and Yousry. “In the view of the United States, these new charges appropriately and adequately reflect the gravity of all three defendants’ conduct and address the legal concerns articulated by the court in its July 22, 2003, ruling,” Comey said. The new indictment raises the possibility that the trial of Stewart and her co-defendants, which is scheduled to begin in January, might be postponed. Mark Hamblett is a reporter at the New York Law Journal, an American Lawyer Media daily newspaper, where this article first appeared.

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