'Senior al-Qa’ida leader' arrest is case of mistaken identity

 

A former Egyptian jihadist arrested by officials at Cairo airport and initially accused of being a senior al-Qa'ida leader declared to reporters that he was the victim of a case of mistaken identity. With no small irony, he had made the journey in an attempt to clear his name.

Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi was arrested on his arrival at Cairo airport from Pakistan via Dubai and taken for questioning, security and airport officials said. Security officials initially announced said they believed the man was Saif al-Adel, a senior al-Qa'ida figure with a $5m bounty on his head and wanted by the US over the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa that killed hundreds.

The man arrested by police insisted to reporters that he was not the al-Qai'da leader and that he had returned to Egypt from political exile in Pakistan in order to clear his name after many years. He said he had been given travel documents by the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad where he has been openly living.

"I am not the wanted Saif al-Adel," Mr Makkawi told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "What has been said about me is lies. I never took part in actions against people or installations. I decided to come to Egypt to live in peace and because I am certain of my innocence."

Terrorism analysts said it was not the first time that Mr Makkawi had been mistaken for the al-Qa'ida leader. Last summer Asharq Alawsat, the Arabic newspaper which has its headquarters in London, reported how Mr Makkawi had told them: "In truth, I am not him [Saif al-Adel]. I was forced to deny this voluntarily, after my release from prison in Egypt."

The paper reported that Mr Makkawi had struggled in vain to have the US remove from its files the "fact" that Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi is the real name of Saif al-Adel. One reason the two men may have been confused is that both are Egyptian army officers who left the army to join Ayman al-Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad group. They also both fought alongside the mujahedeen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

According to the AP, a senior Egyptian security official supported Mr Makkawi's assertion of innocence. The official said Mr Makkawi was a former army officer who left Egypt in the 1980s to join the fight against Russian forces in Afghanistan.

The official said Mr Makkawi was wanted for questioning in Egypt in a case dating back to 1994 that involves the activities of the militant group, whose members fought the government of ousted president Hosni Mubarak in an insurgency in the early 1990s.

Mr Makkawi was had been detained after arriving on an Emirates flight from Pakistan, that had stopped at Dubai.

It has long been assumed that Saif al-Adel is living in Iran. While some reports suggested he may have left and travelled to northern Pakistan, other experts believe he remains in Iran.

Noman Benotman, a former Libyan militant who turned his back on violent Islamism but knew many of the early mujahideen leaders from the Soviet-Afghan campaign, said Mr Makkawi had always been haunted by the accusation that he was an al Qa'ida leader.

"Makkawi is not Saif al Adel and never has been," he told The Independent. Mr Benotman, who met Mr Makkawi in the early 1990s in Pakistan, painted a somewhat tragic portrait of a former militant who has spent much of the past decade failing to clear his name.

"He was a member of the Egyptian army and, like Saif al Adel, he went to fight in Afghanistan with Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He was put in charge of some of the frontline fighting around Jalalabad but he was always in conflict with Bin Laden and Zawahiri. He just couldn't work with them."

He added: "He felt his career and family were ruined by his early association with Zawahiri and Bin Laden. But he was never al-Qa'ida."

Mr Benotman said that while many of those drawn to join the Afghan mujahedeen were impressionable middle class idealists, Mr Makkawi was a staunch military man who was often highly critical of his fellow militants' strategic abilities.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Sport
Two christmas trees ,Moonbeam (2L), Moonchester (2R) and Santa Claus outside the Etihad Stadium
footballAll the action from today's games
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas