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Name of leader          Umar Abdel-Rahman


Also known as                  The Blind Sheik                 

Organization                    al-Gama’a al-Islamiya (GI)


Conflict country              Egypt


Gender                              Male   


Year of birth                     1938[1]


Place of birth                   El Gamallia, Egypt;[2] Fayyum, Egypt;[3] Tanta, Egypt.[4]


Year of death                   2017[5]





Yes, he died in 2017 of diabetes and heart disease.


Birth order


His birth order is unknown.


Age at start of rebel leadership


A credible source indicates that Rahman was the leader by 1979.[6] If true, he would have been 41.


Leader entry method


A member nominated him as the IG’s spiritual leader, and he accepted the position.[7]




No, IG has a spiritual leader and a consultative body. It has been described as having a decentralized decision-making process from 1989-1993. Rahman was its spiritual leader.[8]


Education (also name universities attended, if any); note any relevant experiences while a student


He has a doctorate in Islamic law from al-Azhar University.[9] He also has a Master’s degree from Cairo University.[10]


Ever married? If yes, age of first marriage


Yes, he has married twice.[11] A source says that he had begun to marry by 1971.[12] He was 33 years old at 1971.




Yes, he has ten kids.[13]


Religious identification


He is Muslim.[14]


Family background


His family were poor Egyptian farmers,[15] as well as village merchants.[16]


Political affiliations and intellectual circles; note any relevant social connections made


No, there is no evidence of political affiliations.


Physical and mental health


He became blind before he turned one years old. He suffered from diabetes and heart disease.[17]


Pre-militant leader occupation


He was an Imam.[18] He was also a professor at the Theological Collage in Asyut, Egypt.[19] He taught in Saudi Arabia as well before becoming a rebel leader.[20]


Experience in a state military, and role; any relevant social ties


No, there is no evidence of experience in a state military.


Experience in a nonstate military, and role; any relevant social ties


No, there is no evidence of experience in a nonstate military. However, he recruited people to fight with Afghan rebels. He was associated with Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Afghan rebel group.[21]


Combat experience prior to assuming resistance organization leadership?


No, there is no evidence of combat experience.


Held government position prior to assuming leadership?


Yes, the state assigned to him the position of Imam of Fayoum.[22]


Lived in exile?


Yes, he was expelled from Egypt in the 1980s and stayed in Afghanistan. In the 1990s, he left Egypt to avoid prosecution for terror attacks.[23] He asked for political asylum in the United States in 1992.[24] He had political asylum in Sudan.[25] He also hid in exile in Saudi Arabia.[26]


Study abroad?


No, there is no evidence he studied abroad.


Did the leader receive military training abroad?


No, there is no evidence of military training abroad.


Did the leader have extensive work experience abroad?


Yes, he worked in the United States as an Imam. He taught in Saudi Arabia.[27]


Serve time in prison? Social connections during that time?


Yes, he served time in an Egyptian prison and an U.S. prison. He was convicted in 1995 to a life sentence.[28] He was also under house arrest in Egypt.[29]


Was there an assassination attempt on the leader by the state?


No, there is no evidence of an assassination attempt by the state.


Cause of Death?


He died of diabetes and heart disease.[30]


Primary language, and other languages spoken as adult


He spoke Arabic.[31] He claimed to know only 10 words in English.[32]


[1]Image Credit:

 Matt Schudel, “Omar Abdel Rahman, Imprisoned ‘Blind Sheikh’ Linked to Terrorist Efforts Dies at 78,” The Washington Post, February 18, 2017, Accessed May 24, 2018,

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Spencer C. Tucker, “Abdel-Rahman, Omar (aka the Blind Sheikh),” The War on Terror Encyclopedia: From the Rise of Al-Qaeda to 9/11 and Beyond, Edited by Jan Goldman, (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2014), 1.

[4] Mamoun Fandy, "Egypt's Islamic Group: Regional Revenge?" Middle East Journal 48, no. 4 (1994): 607-25, 607.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jonathan Schaizer, Al-Qaeda’s Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups & the Next Generation of Terror (New York: Specialist Press International, 2005), 33.

[7] Sageman. 31.

[8] Blake W. Mobley, Terrorism: Counter-Intelligence: How Terrorist Groups Elude Detection, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 173.

[9] Schudel.

[10] John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, Third Edition, (London: Pluto Press, 2000), 41.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Cooley. 42.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Omar Abdel-Rahman- Egyptian Cleric Known as the ‘Blind Sheikh’, Who Inspired a Generation of Islamic Terrorist Attacks Against the West,” The Times, February 20, 2017, Accessed May 27, 2018 via News Bank.

[16] Julia Preston, “Omar Abdel Rahman, Blind Cleric Found Guilty of Plot to Wage ‘War of Urban Terrorism,’ Dies at 78,” The New York Times, February 18, 2017, Accessed May 29, 2018 via Lexis Nexus.

[17] Schudel.

[18] Schudel.

[19] Spencer. 1.

[20] Youssef M. Ibrahim, “Far From Trade Center, Few But Family in Oasis Town Remember a Sheik,” The New York Times, March 22, 1993, Accessed May 30, 2018 via Lexis Nexus.

[21] Kenneth Katzman, “Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman and His Followers,” Congressional Research Service, 1993, 5.

[22] Cooley. 42.

[23] Spencer. 1.

[24] Schudel.

[25] Samuel M. Makinda, "Iran, Sudan and Islam," The World Today 49, no. 6 (1993): 108-111, 110.

[26] Philippe Migaux, “The Roots of Islamic Radicalization” In The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda, Edited by Gerard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin, Translated by Edward Schneider, Kathryn Pulver, and Jesse Browner, (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007), 291.

[27] Schudel.

[28] Schudel.

[29] Gordon Barthos, “Poverty Feeds Egypt’s Muslim Revival,” The Toronto Star, April 21, 1990, Accessed May 27, 2018 via News Bank.

[30] Schudel.

[31] Schudel.

[32] “Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman; Washington Waste; The Woman Next Door; Tango,” ABC News Primetime Live, March 18, 1993.

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