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Egypt arrests man said by US to be al-Qaida leader

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 6:00 a.m. MST

CAIRO — An Egyptian named by the United States as one of al-Qaida's top figures was arrested in Cairo on Wednesday, but he denied the link in comments to reporters and said it was a case of mistaken identity.

Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi was arrested on his arrival at Cairo airport from Pakistan via Dubai and was taken for questioning, security and airport officials said.

Makkawi told reporters he was not the senior al-Qaida leader known as Saif al-Adel and that he had nothing to do with the terror group since 1989. He said he traveled to Egypt using travel documents issued by the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad.

The U.S. has listed the name Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi as the real name of Saif al-Adel, a pseudonym that means "sword of justice." But former militants who know both men have previously said they are two different people and the U.S. identification is incorrect.

"I am not the wanted Saif al-Adel," Makkawi told reporters. "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," he said. Makkawi is believed to be in his 50s.

Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian, has been indicted by the United States for an alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people. He is a veteran figure in al-Qaida, believed to have been the head of its military committee. After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, he fled to Iran, where he was reportedly held under house arrest, though it is believed he continued to be active and in recent years he was reportedly allowed to make trips to Pakistan.

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

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

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Noman Benotman, a Libyan who was once a member of a jihadist group linked to al-Qaida, says the man arrested is actually Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi and is not Saif al-Adel.

Benotman, now an analyst at the London-based Quilliam Foundation, says he has met both Makkawi and al-Adel.

Benotman, who said he has spoken to security officials in Egypt, said Makkawi flew to Egypt "purposely to clear his name as many former jihadists have been released since all of the political changes in Egypt."

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