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Maverick defense lawyer Lynne F. Stewart was charged Tuesday with providing material support to a terrorist group by helping imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman communicate with the Egyptian-based Islamic Group. Stewart, who defended Sheik Abdel-Rahman during his 1995 trial for seditious conspiracy and soliciting crimes of violence against the United States, was one of four people accused of helping the Sheik pass and disseminate messages to members of the Islamic Group (IG). Sheik Abdel-Rahman, 63, is serving a life term in federal prison after his conviction in a conspiracy to blow up New York City landmarks, and is considered a spiritual leader of the men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. During her arraignment late Tuesday before Southern District of New York Judge John G. Koeltl, Stewart pleaded “Emphatically, not guilty.” She appeared in court just hours after federal authorities armed with a search warrant seized materials from her Manhattan law office. Stewart was due to be released on $500,000 bond by the end of the day. The investigation that led to the indictment — which was announced Tuesday by Attorney General John Ashcroft and Southern District U.S. Attorney James B. Comey — was prompted by concerns that the sheik, as the spiritual leader of the Islamic Group, would continue to direct terrorist attacks from behind bars. It was the result of more than three years of court-approved monitoring of conversations between Stewart and the sheik at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., as well as phone surveillance. As a result of the investigation, Ashcroft said he was invoking, for the first time, Justice Department regulations that allow for the monitoring of communications between attorneys and imprisoned clients without a warrant. Also charged were Ahmed Abdel Sattar, described in the indictment as an “active IG leader” and a “vital link” between the sheik and the worldwide membership of the IG, the group that claimed responsibility for the 1997 massacre of more than 50 tourists at an archeological site in Luxor, Egypt. The government is seeking to have Sattar, who pleaded not guilty, held without bail. Yassir Al-Sirri, currently in custody in London, allegedly functioned as a facilitator of communications for IG worldwide in his role as head of the London-based Islamic Observation Center. He was accused of being in contact with Sattar and providing material and financial support to the group’s terrorist activities. The government is seeking his extradition to the United States. The fourth person charged was Mohammed Yousry, who joined Stewart in visiting the sheik in prison and served as an interpreter. Yousry also pleaded not guilty Tuesday and was expected to be released pending trial. Stewart, 62, faces up to 40 years in prison for the four charges in the indictment: conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to defraud and making false statements. She entered Koeltl’s courtroom Tuesday smiling and nodding to friends, former clients and supporters, including members of the defense bar. The accusations against Stewart focus on two incidents — both involving the Special Administrative Measures (SAM) imposed on the sheik by the Bureau of Prisons in 1997 that limited his communications with the outside world. Stewart signed an affirmation agreeing to abide by the measures. In order to have access to her client, Stewart agreed to “only be accompanied by translators for the purpose of communication with inmate Abdel-Rahman concerning legal matters.” Stewart “repeatedly and willfully violated those orders” in order to maintain the sheik’s influence over the Islamic Group, Ashcroft said. The indictment states that in a May 2000 visit to the Federal Medical Center, “Stewart allowed Yousry to read letters from Sattar and others regarding IG matters and to conduct a discussion with [the Sheikh] regarding whether the IG should continue to comply with a cease-fire that had been supported by factions within IG since 1998.” STEPS TO CONCEAL Stewart, Ashcroft said, took steps to conceal those communications from prison guards, making “extraneous comments in English to mask the Arabic conversation” between the sheik and his interpreter. Another example cited by the attorney general concerned Sheik Abdel-Rahman’s refusal to take medicine for his diabetic condition. “Sattar and Stewart agreed to issue a public statement claiming he was being denied his medicine,” Ashcroft said, adding that Stewart said this was a “safe” statement to make because “no one on the outside would know the truth.” When a public outcry greeted the announcement of the new monitoring regulations last October, Ashcroft sought to assuage angry lawyers by insisting that the regulations would be applied in only a limited number of circumstances and with effective safeguards against abuse normally provided by the requirement of a warrant. Ashcroft repeated that message Tuesday, saying that the regulations are “carefully circumscribed to preserve inmates’ rights while protecting” the public against the threat of terrorism. He emphasized that of the 158,000 inmates in the federal system, the regulations applied “only to 16 inmates like Rahman.” Stewart is well-known for her advocacy on behalf of unpopular defendants and radical causes, including the defense of members of the Weather Underground and her representation of Larry Davis, who was acquitted of attempted murder following a 1986 shootout with police officers in the Bronx. A current client is notorious Mafia turncoat Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. But her biggest case came with the defense of the sheik in 1995, where the blind cleric was accused of fomenting the overthrow of the U.S. government through attacks on bridges, tunnels and buildings in New York City, including the United Nations. During that trial, Stewart mocked the seditious conspiracy charge as a prosecutorial attack on free speech. Stewart is also no stranger to incursions on the attorney-client privilege. In 1999, Stewart ended a 10-year legal battle by pleading guilty to criminal contempt — a charge brought for her refusal to testify before a grand jury about her fee arrangement with a client. The misdemeanor plea allowed her to continue practicing law. Gerald B. Lefcourt, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called the arrest of Stewart “shocking.” Since the regulations were first announced, the defense lawyers group has been warning attorneys “that they violate their ethical obligations to clients if they have a communication with their client” that is going to be monitored by the government, Lefcourt said. As for Stewart, Lefcourt said “she is the type of person who is very zealous in the representation of her clients,” and has often “put herself in danger.” “But I can’t imagine she would wish harm on this country,” he said. Stewart’s attorney, Susan V. Tipograph, said she will ask Judge Koeltl for a special master to oversee the handling of files seized from Stewart’s offices. Tipograph said the attorney-client privilege could be violated as agents and prosecutors review files from other clients of Stewart currently facing federal charges. In the meantime, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Bianco said the government was “prepared to wait a reasonable amount of time” before reviewing the files and until a procedure for review can be agreed upon by both sides.

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