Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi promised to lobby President Obama to release 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Omar Abdel Rahman, aka "The Blind Sheik," the next time he sees the president.
"When I meet with him I will talk to him about this issue," Morsi said during a Monday interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
The Egyptian president repeatedly reaffirmed the commitment he made last June to free the cleric, who is serving a life sentence for his role in the bombing and subsequent plans to target New York City landmarks. Abdel Rahman also issued a fatwa justifying the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and was tied to Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led by al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
His release was also demanded by the Salafist protesters who stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012.
"I want him to be free, but I respect the law and the rule of law in Egypt and the United States. What I am talking about isn't a violation. I don't want a violation of the rule of law, but there are also many humane aspects," Morsi told Blitzer. "There can be things like visitation, assistance, his children, his family assisting him. He is an old sheik and sick and blind. We need to respect that.
"Because he is a man, an old man, and he deserves full care," Morsi continued. "I wish that there could be a big possibility for the American administration to look into this matter about this sheikh who is very old."
Morsi's statement was rebuffed on Capitol Hill by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Tex.
"I urge the Obama administration to stand firm against pleas from Egypt to free Omar Abdel Rahman. Releasing a terrorist who plotted against the United States and has American blood on his hands would be seen as a sign of weakness throughout the Muslim extremist world and will only serve to embolden our enemies who continue to plot against us," McCaul said Tuesday in a statement.
Spokesmen for the National Security Council and the Justice Department vowed that Abdel Rahman will serve out his full life sentence despite any Egyptian requests.