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"Blind sheik" convicted in 1993 World Trade bombing dies in prison, son says

Egyptian Omar Abdel-Rahman speaks during a news conference in this still image taken from February 1993 video footage in New York on Jan. 18, 2013. Reuters file photo

CAIRO, Egypt — Omar Abdel-Rahman, the extremist Muslim cleric known as "the blind sheik" convicted of conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and of planning more attacks as part of a "war of urban terrorism" in the United States, has died in a U.S. prison, his son Ammar told Reuters on Saturday, Feb. 18.

Ammar said his family had received a phone call from a U.S. representative saying his father had died. He was 78.

The Egyptian-born Abdel-Rahman remained a spiritual leader for radical Muslims even after decades of incarceration.

With his long gray beard, sunglasses and red and white clerical cap, the charismatic Abdel-Rahman was the face of radical Islam in the 1980s and 1990s. He preached a fiery brand of Islam that called for the death of people and governments he disapproved of and the installation of an Islamic government in Egypt. His following was tied to fundamentalist killings and bomb attacks around the world.

Abdel-Rahman, who was born in a village along the Nile on May 3, 1938, lost his eyesight due to childhood diabetes and grew up studying a Braille version of the Koran.

As an adult he became associated with the fundamentalist Islamic Group and was imprisoned and accused of issuing a fatwa leading to the 1986 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, against whom he had railed for years. The sheik said he was hung upside-down from the ceiling, beaten with sticks and given electric shocks while held but he was eventually acquitted and went into self-imposed exile in 1990.