An Egyptian arrested at Cairo airport and identified initially by security officials as a senior al Qaeda figure on the FBI's most-wanted list has said he has been falsely identified.
The arrest of a would-be senior al Qaeda suspect on arrival at Cairo airport on Wednesday may have been a case of mistaken identify. The American FBI said it was seeking verification.
The airline passenger in his 50s, who identified himself as Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi, told reporters at the airport that he was not the senior al Qaeda leader known as "Saif al-Adel."
This is a pseudonym meaning "sword of justice" used by a fugitive al Qaeda veteran who is wanted on indictment by the FBI for the August 7, 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Those blasts killed 224 people.
Arrested man disowns al Qaida label
Makkawi on arrival said he had had nothing to do with the terror group since he left Egypt in the 1980s and had traveled back to Cairo via Dubai on an Emirate's flight using documents issued by the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad.
He said he wanted to return to his home country of Egypt to confront the case against him. An investigation by the Associated Press news agency last June found doubt among several European intelligence agencies that Makkawi and Saif al-Adel were the same person.
In Washington, a US national security official quoted anonymously by the AP said the Cairo arrest appeared to be a case of mistaken identity.
An FBI spokesman, William Carter, said "every effort" was being made to "verify the identity of the person in custody."
Makkawi implicated instead in Egyptian insurgent group
A senior Egyptian security official also quoted by AP said the man calling himself Makkawi was a former special forces army officer who left Egypt in the 1980s to join the-then fight against Russian forces in Afghanistan.
Makkawi was, however, wanted for questioning on a case dating back to 1994 related to a militant group Al-Jihad, the official said. In an insurgency three decades ago its members had fought the government of then President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted during a popular uprising early last year.
Security officials said the suspect was taken into custody by the Egypt's national security apparatus after presenting a travel document at customs on arrival.
Reporters say they heard him say: "I am not the wanted Saif al-Adel. I decided to come to Egypt to live in peace and because I am certain of my innocence."
Egyptian media reported arrest sensation
Egyptian state television's Channel One and the official MENA news agency had initially reported on the supposed arrest of Saif al-Adel.
The news agency Reuters said little was known about the reclusive Saif al-Adel, but he is generally seen as a senior al Qaeda military commander who is believed to have opposed the September 2001 attacks on US targets by suicidal hijackers instigated by the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. US commandos killed bin Laden in Pakistan in May last year.
Saif al-Adel is reported to have fled to Iran when US-led troops invaded Afghanistan after the 2001 attacks and to have made trips to Pakistan in recent years.
ipj/acb/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)