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Lawyer gets 28 months jail for aiding terrorism

Matthew Verrinder / Reuters | October 16 2006

A New York attorney convicted of aiding terrorism by helping a client smuggle messages to militant followers was sentenced on Monday to 28 months in prison.

Lynne Stewart, 67, was convicted in February 2005 of helping her imprisoned client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, to contact the Islamic Group, which the U.S. government lists as a terrorist organization.

Prosecutors said messages Stewart passed on for Abdel-Rahman could have ignited violence in Egypt. The sheikh was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack U.S. targets in a plot prosecutors said included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Stewart, long a defender of the poor and unpopular, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan federal court. She could face more than 15 years in prison on the charges.

"I am very grateful to the judge," Stewart told reporters and supporters rallying outside the courthouse, calling her sentencing a "victory against an overreaching government."

The civil rights lawyer has defended her actions, saying she was only zealously representing her client.

Tagged as both heroine and radical leftist, Stewart is the only U.S. lawyer to be indicted on terrorism charges. Civil rights groups say the case stemmed from Bush administration efforts to discourage the defense of accused terrorists.

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in a statement that the government was disappointed and would consider an appeal.

Since her 2002 indictment, Stewart has spoken at rallies, been convicted after a seven-month trial, undergone treatment for cancer and become the subject of a documentary called "Who's Afraid of Lynne Stewart?"

Evidence for the terrorism charges included a call Stewart made to a Reuters correspondent in Egypt in which she read a statement issue by the cleric saying he had withdrawn his support for the Islamic Group's cease-fire in Egypt. That correspondent was subpoenaed in the case.

The group had observed the cease-fire since a 1997 attack on tourists in Luxor.


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