Egypt detains Islamist, confusion over al Qaeda link

CAIRO Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:50am EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian Islamist, mistakenly identified as a senior al Qaeda commander because he has the same name, was detained at Cairo airport Wednesday for suspected militant activities, but said he had cut any links with al Qaeda more than two decades ago.

Mohamed Ibrahim Makkawi, born in 1954, was detained on return to Egypt from Pakistan, security sources said, but added that initial suspicions he was Saif al-Adel, an al Qaeda commander also known by the alias Mohamed Ibrahim Makkawi, were incorrect.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lists Saif al-Adel as born in 1960 or 1963. As well as the Makkawi alias, he is known by the name Ibrahim al-Madani, the FBI website says.

A security official said Makkawi was wanted in connection with a 1994 case dubbed "returnees from Afghanistan" in which suspects were accused of being a threat to the state after fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Makkawi told reporters at the airport that he had returned to Egypt to clear his name.

"I decided to return to Egypt to live in peace, without making any deal with the Egyptian authorities and to confirm my innocence of all charges directed against me," he said, after arriving from Pakistan via the United Arab Emirates.

He said he had been wrongly identified as Saif al-Adel because his name had been used as an alias, but said he had severed any links to the group in 1989, shortly after the organization was set up and several years before it declared its drive against the West and those it deemed foes of Islam.

"I did not carry out any operation against any installation or individual," said Makkawi, a former army officer in Egypt's special forces.

He said he knew former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, then a top official in the group and now its leader, but said relations went no deeper than that.

Little is known about Saif al-Adel, but he is generally seen as a senior al Qaeda military commander who is believed to have opposed the September 11 attacks on U.S. targets, arguing that they were strategically ill-advised as they would invite a harsh U.S. response.

Since Hosni Mubarak was ousted a year ago, Egypt has released from jail dozens of people who had been involved in Islamist militant actions. Many of those held had finished their jail terms but were still detained while Mubarak was in power.

Many Islamists who fled abroad during the Mubarak era have returned since his overthrow.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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