Egypt arrests man mistakenly thought to be Al Qaeda chief

AFP | Feb 29,2012 | JORDAN TIMES

CAIRO — Egyptian police arrested a man on Wednesday who they thought had been a top lieutenant of Osama Ben Laden, only to discover that the man they had nabbed had the right name but the wrong identity.

An Egyptian known as Seif Al Adel is on the FBI’s most wanted list, indicted for involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya and with a $5 million price tag on his head.

Following Ben Laden’s assassination in May, reports surfaced that Adel had briefly taken over the militant organisation before long-time number two Ayman Zawahiri became its leader.

The FBI and other counter-intelligence agencies around the world published what they said was Adel’s real name — Muhammad Makkawi — also an Egyptian and the man who was seized at Cairo airport after arriving from Pakistan, via Dubai.

Following the mix-up, a security official later said the real Makkawi was an Islamist who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and then sought political asylum in neighbouring Pakistan.

“He is wanted for involvement with Al Jihad [group]. He is not Seif Al Adel,” said the source at the National Security apparatus.

An analyst who had been in touch with Makkawi said he had denied all along that he was Seif Al Adel, whose real name is believed to be Mohammad Zeidan.

“On the FBI website they have picture of Zeidan but the biography of Makkawi,” said Omar Ashour, a professor at Exeter University.

Ashour said Makkawi had contacted him to clear his name, before he reached out to a pan-Arab newspaper to clarify his identity.

“He sent me an e-mail two years saying I’m not the guy, with his home number and address in Pakistan,” he said.

“This guy has been contacting everyone telling them, ‘I’m not the guy.’ He even addressed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, saying ‘I’m not the guy.'”

However, Ashour acknowledged that “there are a few reasons [for confusing the two Egyptians].”

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