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Attorney Lynne Stewart and her co-defendants provided a direct line from the imprisoned terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman to his followers abroad and knew they were setting the stage for attacks on Americans, a federal prosecutor told a jury Tuesday. Christopher Morvillo, launching the government’s marathon trial against Stewart, Ahmed Abdul Sattar and Mohamed Yousry, said the three knew that “Abdel Rahman’s message of terror must get out no matter what.” In passing messages to and from the sheikh at a federal prison in Minnesota, he said, Stewart and their interpreter, Yousry, provided and concealed material support for the government-designated terror organization Islamic Group. They also defrauded the United States, Morvillo said, by interfering with special restrictions that had been imposed on the sheikh’s communications by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons. The trial before Southern District Judge John G. Koeltl is expected to last four to six months. Spectators in the courtroom packed with Stewart supporters and federal prosecutors heard that a June 14, 2000, press release that Stewart read to the media was actually an important message to the sheikh’s followers. It allegedly announced the sheikh’s withdrawal of support for a cease-fire, or cessation of terror activities, against the Egyptian government by Islamic Group. Members of Islamic Group had shocked the world on Nov. 17, 1997, with the murder of dozens of tourists at an archeological site in Luxor, Egypt. The group claimed the attacks were part of a campaign to free the sheikh. Although Stewart contends the attacks were conducted by renegade members of the group, prosecutors maintain the press release was a clear signal for the resumption of Luxor-like attacks. Stewart’s attorney, Michael Tigar, insisted in his opening statement that she released the statement as “a lawyer sworn to advance her client’s interest in accordance with the law and only the law” and “it was the right thing to do.” Stewart was trying to persuade the governments of Egypt and the United States to agree to a transfer of the sheikh to Egypt, where he could serve the remainder of his life sentence from his 1995 conviction for seditious conspiracy in waging a war of urban terror in the United States, Tigar explained. That transfer, Tigar said, would have been impossible if the sheikh was seen as promoting a return to violent action in Egypt. And, in any event, he contended, the press release did not withdraw support for the cease-fire. However Morvillo, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District, said releasing the press release was one of several instances in which Stewart directly violated the prison restrictions imposed on the sheikh, and it broke her own promise to the government to abide by those restrictions. One of the sheikh’s other attorneys, Morvillo said, had already angered Sattar by refusing to pass messages to and from the sheikh, who had no patience for the attorney’s insistence that passing messages would violate the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) imposed by the Justice Department and prison officials. Sattar, he said, decided to create a conduit to the sheik that would be “a sure thing” — Stewart. Speaking forcefully to the jury, Morvillo said “this case is about a jailbreak … not your typical jailbreak, but one equally dangerous.” He tried to convey to the jury that Stewart and Yousry had, in essence, physically provided the “otherwise unavailable” sheikh to Islamic Group. “Ms. Stewart used her status as a lawyer as a cloak to smuggle messages out of prison,” he said. ISLAMIC GROUP Her state of mind, he said, was best summed up when Yousry informed both her and the sheikh in a prison visit that the Philippines-based terror group Abu Sayef had kidnapped hostages and were demanding the release of the sheikh — to which Stewart responded, “Good for them.” The bulk of the evidence in the trial is expected to consist of audio and video tapes of prison visits, intercepted phone conversations between Sattar and a top leader in Islamic Group named Taha, monitored e-mail and fax traffic. Tigar disputed Morvillo’s interpretation of the Abu Sayef exchange. In reality, he said, Stewart said “Good for them” on being informed by Yousry that groups were working for the sheikh’s release. On the tape, Tigar contends, Yousry is heard telling Stewart that Abu Sayef had committed kidnappings, and Stewart is heard responding, “That’s so sad. That’s so sad.” Tigar told the jury that Stewart, 64, has been “a courageous and honorable lawyer” — an “active, articulate and constitutionally necessary part of the system” who has been willing to stand up to the government and challenge allegations against her clients. She undertook the defense of the sheikh at his 1995 trial at the request of former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who will testify for Stewart, knowing “that she would be under the microscope,” Tigar said. And she continued to represent the sheikh through the post-conviction appeals process, the effort to win his transfer to Egypt and then, finally, to improve his prison conditions. The government, Tigar alleged, was trying to hold Stewart responsible for the actions of Islamic Group renegades — because “many people in the Islamic Group wanted to use his [the sheikh's] name for their own purpose.” The Luxor attack, he noted, had been condemned by the Islamic Group’s newspaper in Egypt and the dominant wing of the group favored the cease-fire on attacks. Included among the renegades was Taha, one of the unindicted co-conspirators in the Stewart case. Taha allegedly worked with Sattar to have the cease-fire lifted and issued a fatwah, or religious edict, in 2000 urging followers to “Kill the Jews.” Taha, Tigar said, had fled Egypt and gone to the Sudan and then Afghanistan to work with Osama bin Laden and his organization, al-Qaida. Tigar warned the jury that “this case has nothing to do with 9/11,” but that the government intends to cloud the issue by introducing evidence that bin Laden and Taha campaigned openly together for the sheikh’s release from prison. David Ruhnke, representing Yousry, told the jury that his client is “an innocent man who is being wrongfully prosecuted in this case.” He called the fatwah “ghostwritten” and said Yousry was shocked to learn of its existence because he had been the sole interpreter for the sheikh’s prison visits. Yousry, he said, asked the sheikh about the fatwah, and the sheikh responded, in English, “Mr. Yousry, this is none of your business.” Ruhnke also said that Yousry had cooperated with the FBI after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, informing them that he did not believe the attorneys visiting the sheikh were doing anything wrong. “It was kind of a test, I guess, because at the same time, these conversations were being taped,” he said. The trial is expected to resume this morning with Kenneth Paul delivering the opening statement on behalf of Sattar. In addition to Morvillo, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robin Baker, Andrew Dember and Anthony Barkow are prosecuting the case. Working with Tigar is Jill Shellow-Levine. Paul is joined by Barry Fallick; Ruhnke, by David Stern.

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