CAIRO: The family of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, former leader of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, filed a request to the ruling military council on Tuesday, urging them to demand his release from a US prison before handing over the suspected American-Israeli spy to the US government.
"His release can be through an exchange of prisoners or any other method…we just want the Sheikh free," Abdel Rahman’s son Abdallah told Daily News Egypt.
He said that when his father’s supporters heard news that Ilan Grapel, arrested last June, was being released, they set out to pressure the military council on a prisoner swap.
"How can America retrieve this spy so easily, while a prominent figure like Sheikh Adel-Rahman remains unjustly imprisoned?" Abdel Rahman’s other son, Hassan told DNE.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, America’s former top spymaster, was meeting with Egyptian leaders on Tuesday to urge them to release Grapel.
Grapel, 27, has been detained since June on charges of being a Mossad agent — an accusation Israel denies.
Grapel is a dual US-Israeli citizen who said he was working for a Cairo legal aid project when he was arrested. Published reports have suggested that he is ill and that Egypt’s government was responding to appeals for his release.
Abdallah met with Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb on Tuesday as well, where the latter vowed to call for the Sheikh’s release whenever he met with US or Egyptian officials.
El-Tayyeb called on US ambassador Anne Patterson to release Adel-Rahman, who is dubbed Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s godfather, during a meeting last week.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya also echoed a call for exchanging the Islamic leader with Grapel in a press conference on Monday.
Leader of the group’s Shoura Council and founder Tarek Al-Zomor said that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) should be more concerned about releasing its honorable scholars than the US is concerned about releasing its "spies."
Abdel Rahman, a blind 73-year-old cleric, was detained in 1992 and is serving a life sentence in the US for plotting to attack the United Nation headquarters and other New York City landmarks.
The US government lists Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya as a terrorist organization.
The group, which was caught under the tight grip of ousted Mubarak’s regime, became very vocal following his ouster on Feb.11, holding protests and attempting to establish a political party.
Abdel Rahman’s supporters said that he was framed by Mubarak’s regime because of his outspoken criticism against its human rights violations and corruption.
"The main witness that falsely testified against Abdel Rahman was an Egyptian intelligence officer, called Emad Salem," Al-Zomor said.
"Sheikh Abdel Rahman was Mubarak’s number one enemy," Abdel Rahman’s son Hassan told DNE.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya was a militant organization that fought the Mubarak regime in a bloody insurgency in the 1990s, seeking to establish an Islamic state in Egypt. Its jailed leadership renounced violence in 1997, but Mubarak maintained tight restrictions on the group.
Abdel Rahman’s supporters have been holding an open sit-in in front of the US Embassy for 48 days.
"We will continue the open sit-in until my father is released," Hassan said.
Abdel-Aleem Mohamed, political analyst specialized in Israeli studies at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, believed that Abdel Rahman shouldn’t be singled out, saying that all Egyptian prisoners of war, who still remain captive in Israeli prisons should be released in exchange for Grapel.
"Abdel Rahman and even Palestinian detainees can be included in the exchange," he said.
"We all know how valuable an Israeli citizen is to his government, we need to use that to our advantage," he said, adding that Egypt should learn from Hezbollah how to exchange prisoners.
According to a report published earlier this week by the official MENA News Agency, Egypt’s government is considering releasing Grapel "for the sake of prosperity and more political and economic support" for Egypt.
Abdel Aleem condemned this justification, describing such an agreement as "a disgrace to Egypt."
"It’s also unprecedented…prisoners are released in exchange for prisoners not in exchange for economic support," he said.
There have been no official promises by SCAF regarding Grapel’s release, suggesting his release might be tied to Panetta’s visit. –Additional reporting by Agencies.