Egypt Got Ahead of Itself Arresting 'Top Al Qaeda Leader'

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Egyptian officials and the news outlets got excited this morning with the arrest of man they thought was a top al-Qaeda leader, but it turns out that even though they had the wrong guy, they had reason to hold him anyway. Mohamed Ibrahim Makkawi was returning to Egypt from Pakistan today when airport officials detained him on the suspecion that he was Saif al-Adel, the man believed to be the mastermind behind the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The confusion, it seems, stemmed from "Makkawi" being a known alias of al-Adel's in the Most Wanted lists the U.S. distributes. "The FBI has listed that name on the list of its 10 most-wanted fugitives as an alias for the senior al-Qaida leader known as Saif al-Adel," reports the AP.

The real Makkawi, for his part, tried explaining this to Egyptian officials from the start. "I am not the wanted Saif al-Adel," Makkawi told the press. "What has been said about me is lies." Makkawi, though, is hardly clean of terrorist ties. According to Reuters, he admitted that "he knew former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden" but ended his involvement with al-Qaeda in 1989. Given his one-time ties, Makkawi wasn't a bad alias for the real Saif al-Adel to take up. Despite the confusion today, Makkawi is still being kept by Egyptian authorities for taking part in an insurgency against the then Mubarak-controlled Egypt in the 1990s.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.