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The facts surrounding the alleged conspiracy among defense lawyer Lynne Stewart and others trying to help an Egyptian terrorist group began to take shape Tuesday for jurors. For more than an hour, the jury at Stewart’s trial before Southern District of New York Judge John G. Koeltl watched a surveillance tape from her visit to imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman at a Minnesota prison in May 2000. The meeting was between Stewart, Mohamed Yousry, her interpreter, and the blind sheik, who is serving a life sentence from his 1995 conviction for seditious conspiracy. The conversation is the first in which the government alleges Stewart violated a prison ban on the sheik’s communications with the outside world. The government charges she began providing material support for a terrorist organization by acting as a conduit between the sheik and his followers in Islamic Group. Stewart was the sheik’s lawyer at the 1995 trial, where evidence showed he was part of a plot to blow up landmarks in New York City. Under so-called special administrative measures imposed by the Justice Department, Stewart’s prison visits were supposed to deal only with legal matters. She was expressly forbidden to pass messages to or from her client that were unrelated to her status as his attorney. The government says Stewart violated the rules by providing cover for Yousry to pass messages to the sheik, including a letter from a third co-defendant, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, on May 19. The letter from Sattar is important to the government’s case because he wrote seeking guidance from Abdel Rahman on whether Islamic Group should continue a self-declared cease-fire — a strategic cessation of terror activities against the Egyptian government. A faction of the organization had claimed credit for the 1997 slaughter of tourists at an archeological site in Luxor, Egypt. In a second visit to the prison on the next day, after an evening in which the sheik had time to digest Sattar’s letter, he discusses with Stewart and Yousry their plans to have Stewart issue a public statement about the cease-fire. STATEMENT RELEASED Within weeks of that discussion, Stewart had released to the media a statement on behalf of the sheik. That statement, the government charges, was a signal for Islamic Group to abandon the peace initiative and resume attacks on the Egyptian government. Stewart and her lawyer, Michael Tigar, argue that the sheik’s statement leaves any decision on the cease-fire up to the members of Islamic Group. The playing of the surveillance tapes in Judge Koeltl’s courtroom Tuesday came after prosecutors read aloud a transcript of those same conversations, a trying exercise for a jury already forced to listen to everything in both English and Arabic. The transcript and the videotape of the entire prison visit was not read or shown to the jury. The excerpts that were read and shown were the result of negotiations between the defense and the prosecution. Prosecutors Robin Baker, Christopher Morvillo, Andrew Dember and Anthony Barkow planned at first to show only limited excerpts from the prison visits. Tigar wanted larger sections of the visits shown, both so the jury would see Stewart acting as an attorney for her client and to place her allegedly incriminating statements in a larger context. That context was evident Tuesday as the jury watched the videotape, which was secured through a warrant obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The camera was secreted above a white table in a prison visiting room and showed little more than the tops of the subjects’ heads. Stewart appears on the left, Sheik Rahman on the right and Yousry at the bottom. The three are recorded making statements ranging from the mundane, such as the quality of the chocolate that had been brought to the sheik to the allegedly incriminating, such as the efforts to free the sheik from prison and the political situation in Egypt. Stewart spoke to the sheik about generating publicity for his cause by arranging a prison visit by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and by suing over prison conditions. These excerpts were in line with Tigar’s promise to show that Stewart was visiting Abdel Rahman for legitimate purposes. The government believes other excerpts are damaging to Stewart in that they show she supports the goals and methods of Islamic Group and other terror organizations. One controversial exchange concerned the sheik’s learning from Yousry about kidnappings conducted by the al Qaida-affiliated Philippines-based group Abu Sayef, which includes among its goals the freeing of the sheik. The two sides dispute Stewart’s reaction to the news. The government says she showed support for Abu Sayef’s efforts. The defense argues that she actually says on the tape that the taking of hostages by the group was “sad.” DEFRAUDING CHARGE In addition to providing material support for terrorism by “providing personnel” in the form of the sheik, Stewart is charged with defrauding the government, also a felony, by signing and breaking attorney affirmations. In them she promised to abide by the special administrative measures, but prosecutors say she set out immediately to violate them. While the government says the most serious transgression is her publicizing the sheik’s withdrawal of support for the cease-fire, it also contends that she broke the law by acting as a cover for communications to the sheik made through Yousry. Stewart was seen by prison guards writing on a legal pad while the actual conversation was between the sheik and the interpreter. Yousry read him letters from Egypt, a violation of the administrative measures. At one point Stewart said she could win an Academy Award for her performance. Sattar is represented by Kenneth Paul and Barry Fallick. Yousry is represented by David Stern and David Ruhnke.

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