Seif al-Adel
Senior Al-Qaeda operative Seif al-Adel, seen here, who was reported to have briefly taken over the militant network's leadership after Osama Ben Laden's death, was arrested in Cairo airport. © null - AFP/File
Seif al-Adel
Last updated: February 29, 2012

Senior Qaeda militant arrested in Cairo airport

Egyptian police arrested a man on Wednesday who they thought had been a top lieutenant of Osama bin 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 bin Laden's assassination in May, reports surfaced that Adel had briefly taken over the militant organisation before long-time number two Ayman al-Zawahiri became its leader.

The FBI and other counter-intelligence agencies around the world published what they said was Adel's real name -- Muhamed 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 a former Islamist militant who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and then sought political asylum in neighbouring Pakistan.

"He is wanted for involvement with the 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 Mohammed 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 email 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."

"One of them has to do with the other man's background. Mohammed Zeidan was also in the armed forces. Both come from the (Nile) Delta region."

Makkawi told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in an interview in May that he had been mistakenly identified as the senior militant, but that he disagreed with Al-Qaeda and had sought political asylum in Pakistan.

"Following the tragic events of 9/11, I was surprised to find that my name and history had been placed underneath the image of another Egyptian, under the false name 'Seif al-Adel' as part of a list of 22 of the most wanted terrorists issued by the FBI, even though I have no connection to Al-Qaeda or its operations," he had said.

He added that he was wanted in Egypt for involvement in Al-Jihad, a onetime militant group that renounced violence in the late 1990s.

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