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02-11-2005, 10:39 AM
Civil Rights Lawyer Is Convicted of Aiding Terrorists

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/l.gifynne F. Stewart, an outspoken New York lawyer known for aggressively defending unpopular clients, was found guilty today of aiding terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a convicted Islamic terrorist she represented.

Ms. Stewart faces up to 20 years in prison for her conviction on five federal charges that included conspiracy, giving material support to terrorists and lying to the government involving her work with the client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Two co-defendants, Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Mohamed Yousry, were also convicted of all the charges against them in federal court in Manhattan.

Ms. Stewart, 65, who remains free on bail but who may not leave the state until her sentencing on July 15, said that she would appeal. "I will fight on. I'm not giving up," she told reporters. "I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right."

Federal prosecutors, for whom the verdict was undeniably a big victory, said they would have no comment, but Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales hailed the convictions as sending "a clear, unmistakable message that this Department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals."

The jury convicted Mr. Sattar, 45, an Egyptian-born postal worker from Staten Island, of plotting to "kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country." Mr. Sattar helped to compose an October 2000 fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims around the world "to fight the Jews and kill them wherever they are."

The third defendant, Mr. Yousry, 48, an Arabic interpreter, who had helped Ms. Stewart and other lawyers speak with the sheik, was found guilty of helping to provide material support to terrorists.

Mr. Sattar could be sentenced to life in prison, and Mr. Yousry is facing up to 20 years.

The verdicts, reached on the 13th day of jury deliberations that spanned four weeks, capped an exhausting trial that lasted more than seven months. Although the judge had reminded the jurors repeatedly that Osama bin Laden and the World Trade Center attacks were not at issue, images of the Al Qaeda leader and remembrances of the destruction he wrought pervaded the trial, which took place in a courthouse that stands just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

Outside the courtroom after the verdicts were announced today, Ms. Stewart was surrounded by a coterie of supporters who shouted, "Hands off Lynne Stewart."

"I see myself as a symbol of what people rail against when they say that civil liberties are eroded," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. "We don't live in the same America we lived in even three or four years ago.

"We will all wake up one morning to hear someone say guilty and be placed in jail," she said. "I hope this verdict will be a wake-up call to all the citizens of this great country that you can't lock up the lawyers. You can't tell the lawyers how to do their jobs."

Ms. Stewart's indictment in April 2002 was announced with great fanfare at a press conference in Washington by the attorney general at the time, John Ashcroft, and the case was one of the most important terrorism prosecutions handled by the Justice Department since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Ms. Stewart was convicted on two counts of conspiring to provide material aid to terrorists, by making the views and instructions of Mr. Abdel Rahman available to his followers in the Islamic Group, a militant organization in Egypt with a history of terrorist violence. She was also convicted on three counts of perjury and defrauding the government for knowingly flouting federal prison rules that barred Mr. Abdel Rahman, a blind Islamic cleric from Egypt, from communicating with anyone outside his federal prison except for his lawyers and a wife.

Ms. Stewart's troubles arose from her work over a decade to defend Sheik Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in American prison for inspiring a thwarted 1993 plot to bomb the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and other New York landmarks.

The jurors' task was to decide whether Ms. Stewart had crossed a line from vigorously defending a convicted terrorist client despised by the public, as she insisted she was doing, to conspiring actively with Mr. Abdel Rahman and Islamic militants overseas who followed his virulently anti-American preaching, as prosecutors asserted.

Ms. Stewart's supporters decried the trial as an example of a new post-9/11 government intolerance, saying the Justice Department was trying to silence her dissent and suppress her combative style of lawyering. But as the prosecutors' evidence emerged, lawyers became divided, with many concluding that Ms. Stewart had flouted the law and ultimately did no service to her client.

Because she has now been convicted of a felony, Ms. Stewart, who has had a four-decade legal career, is expected to be disbarred and never allowed to practice law again.

Judge John G. Goeltl of Federal District Court in Manhattan kept secret the identities of the jurors from everyone in court except a jury administrator not involved in the trial because the case involved terrorism. The eight women and four men were identified in court only by their juror numbers and seats in the jury box.

Almost all the government's evidence consisted of transcripts of secret government recordings of calls on Mr. Sattar's telephone and of Ms. Stewart's prison meetings with Mr. Abdel Rahman, which were conducted in Arabic through Mr. Yousry. Based on that evidence, there was little dispute about many of the central facts.

After Mr. Abdel Rahman was sentenced to life in prison in 1996, his followers in the Islamic Group, a militant organization that had taken responsibility for bloody attacks in Egypt, issued a series of threats against the United States that included demands for his release. Federal prosecutors decided to impose severe rules, known as Special Administrative Measures, which barred the sheik, who was already held in solitary confinement, from speaking with anyone outside prison but his lawyers and one wife.

Ms. Stewart repeatedly signed documents in which she agreed to uphold the rules and said she would not "use my meetings" with the sheik to pass messages to anyone else, "including, but not limited to, the media."

Ms. Stewart brought a letter containing messages from Islamic Group members to meetings with the sheik in the federal prison in Rochester, Minn., on May 19 and 20, 2000. With Mr. Yousry translating, she received a statement from the sheik. On June 14, after much debate within the sheik's legal team, which included Ramsey Clark, a former United States attorney general, Ms. Stewart called a Reuters reporter in Cairo and read him Mr. Abdel Rahman's statement.

In his message, the sheik said he was withdrawing his support for - though not canceling - a cease-fire that the Islamic Group had observed for three years in Egypt. He called on his followers to reconsider the truce.

Ms. Stewart's chief lawyer, Michael E. Tigar, said that the government's secret video recording of Ms. Stewart's meeting with her client was a gross violation of the attorney-client privilege.

The core issue in the trial was why Ms. Stewart had done what she did. Prosecutors said she had knowingly worked to deceive the government and smuggle out the sheik's messages in order to promote a return to terrorist violence in Egypt.

Testifying on her own behalf, Ms. Stewart said the cease-fire press release was part of a legal strategy that involved provoking the government, if necessary, in order to keep the sheik in the public eye. Her ultimate goal as a lawyer, she said, was a political negotiation to send the sheik back to Egypt to serve out his sentence.

Ms. Stewart said her view was that she was acting within a lawyer's unwritten "bubble" in the prison rules that allowed her to defend her client as she thought best.

Prosecutors made what amounted to a separate case against Mr. Sattar, whose home phone in his Staten Island apartment was wiretapped by the F.B.I. almost continuously for seven years after 1996. Making conference calls that spanned the globe from London to Aswan to Afghanistan, Mr. Sattar became embroiled in the Islamic Group's internal feuding over whether to abandon the cease-fire and return to terror attacks.

Many of his calls were with Rifai Taha, an Islamic Group leader designated by the United States as one of the world's most wanted terrorists, who at the time was in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden. Mr. Sattar helped put Mr. Taha, who bitterly opposed the cease-fire and wanted to launch new violence in Egypt, in contact with an Islamic Group fighter, Alaa Atia, who was in hiding in the country.

Mr. Sattar also worked with Mr. Taha to write the notorious fatwa, which called Jews "apes and swine" and urged Muslims to fight them "either by killing them as individuals or by targeting their interests." Mr. Sattar issued the fatwa on an Arabic Web site on Oct. 5, 2000, under Mr. Abdel Rahman's name, without telling the sheik about it beforehand.

The government never showed that any violence ever resulted from Mr. Sattar's calls or from any action by Ms. Stewart or Mr. Yousry; there were no victims in the case. The Islamic Group never cancelled the cease-fire, which remains in effect to this day. The defendants were never accused of plotting any terrorism in the United States.

The evidence showed that Ms. Stewart had had nothing to do with writing or issuing the fatwa. But she was heard to say in one telephone call that she approved of its release because it kept the sheik's views in the public arena.

Through Mr. Sattar's phone calls, the prosecutors took the jury on a winding journey through remote labyrinths of Egyptian Islamic politics, citing names of obscure militants who never seemed to become entirely real for the jury. Ultimately the jury appeared to have been persuaded by the fact that Ms. Stewart, a lawyer, had clearly violated the legal letter of the prison rules.

The prosecutors showed that she had never formally challenged the rules, nor had she ever discussed her interpretation of the "bubble" with any prosecutors or prison officials before her trial. One of the prosecutors' strongest points was made by Anthony Barkow, the assistant United States attorney, who made their final argument to the jury.

"She thought she could blow off the rules that apply to everyone else because she's a lawyer, and she's above the law," Mr. Barkow said. "She said, 'I think my client is more important than the law. My cause is more important that the risk to lives of innocent people.' "

On the stand, Ms. Stewart often appeared indifferent to the extremist message of her client, Mr. Abdel Rahman.

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