Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Conversation with Mubarak’s Attempted Assassin | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55293605

Hussein Shamit. (AAA File photo)

Hussein Shamit. (AAA File photo)

Hussein Shamit. (AAA File photo)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat–In 1995, members of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, working together with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, staged an assassination attempt on then president Hosni Mubarak as he arrived in Addis Ababa for a summit of African leaders. Gunmen ambushed the Egyptian president’s motorcade, and although his bulletproof limousine was pocked with gunshots, Mubarak was unhurt and returned to Egypt to oversee a massive crackdown against the Islamist groups that had tried to have him killed.
Hussein Shamit, the self-confessed “engineer of the Mubarak assassination operation”, has lived the last two decades of his life on the run from Egyptian and international forces, whether in Afghanistan or Iran. Shamit returned to Egypt last summer following the revolution that ousted the Egyptian leader he once tried to kill, having received an official pardon for all the terrorist charges made against him. He also attempted to take part in Egypt’s previous parliamentary elections but was barred for running for legal reasons.
In an exclusive interview, Asharq Al-Awsat talks to Shamit about the present situation in Egypt, the motivations for the 1995 attempt on Hosni Mubarak’s life, and his hopes for the future. The following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Now that you have returned to Egypt, what is your view of the situation in the county two years after the 25 January revolution?

A: Revolutions must have tremors. I believe that everything that happened following the revolution was expected, even if we were hoping for more openness, particularly as this was a popular uprising against a corrupt regime. We had hoped that everybody would understand the situation and the importance of pushing Egypt forward. Unfortunately, we were surprised by those who are trying to disrupt the democratic process which the current civil opposition used to promote in the past. They always described the Islamists as un-democratic, so we were surprised that those who accused us of this yesterday are failing to abide by the principles of democracy today. They want to participate in a coercive or tyrannical manner. We expected them (the opposition) to understand the reality of the situation that Egypt is passing through, particularly as the Islamists have been able to do so. President Mursi has expressed his complete readiness for dialogue regarding what must be done to get away from these problems that were inherited from the previous era and which Egypt must now confront during this new phase. Concerted effort is required to overcome these problems. Unfortunately, we now find that some people are trying to disrupt the democratic process and this is something that has negative consequences on the efforts to achieve development and rebuild the country.

Q: Are there any secrets yet to be revealed regarding the assassination attempt on former president Mubarak in Addis Ababa?

A: I don’t think so, everything is clear. I would prefer not to comment on this issue because . . . we still have brothers imprisoned there in Addis Ababa. However everything has been clear for a long time. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya announced its responsibility for the Addis Ababa operation a long time ago, and the details of who did or did not participate in this are immaterial. Therefore I do not think there is anything new. Asharq Al-Awsat was also the first newspaper to publish the details of this operation at the time.

Q: What about when the detainees in Ethiopia are released?

A: Perhaps what is missing from the reports of this incident is the situation in Ethiopia itself, which is something that we are not aware of, both in terms of the investigations or what is included within them, in terms of details and accuracy. For myself, I do not think that any more details of this incident will be revealed, except perhaps what may come out in the course of the Ethiopians’ investigations with the brothers in Addis Ababa. I think that everything is clear and the case is closed.

Q: How many people involved in this operation are being detained in Ethiopia?

A: There are three brothers, they are all Egyptians and have been sentenced to death . . . all of those who participated in the operation were Egyptian.

Q: Do you expect this sentence to be carried out against them?

A: God willing, they will not be executed . . . at the same time as this there are intermediaries and lawyers who are going there (to Ethiopia) to monitor the fate of these brothers and attempt to secure their return to Egypt, particularly as they have now spent more than 17 years in prison.

Q: What is your view today, following the revolution, of this assassination attempt on then President Mubarak?

A: Perhaps if those who carried out this operation had been successful, then the people would not have seen the corruption of the ousted president and revolted against him. If the assassination operation had been successful, perhaps the people would have viewed him (Mubarak) as a hero or martyr . . . and he would have been succeeded by somebody from the same party or even by his own son.
If the operation had been successful, then what was exposed would have remained hidden. This is God’s will, God always appreciates what is good.

Q: If President Mursi were to follow the same approach as that of Mubarak, would you contemplate assassinating him in the same way that Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya attempted to kill the former president?

A: The decision to kill Mubarak was not the choice of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya . . . there was no choice but to pursue this course after Mubarak sent a lot of people to prison. The number of our brothers in prison stood at around sixty thousand. The former president did not give any opportunity for dialogue or peaceful demonstrations to express opinion or protest. Therefore the decision to rid ourselves of Mubarak was not an approach of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, rather this was forced by circumstance. As for Dr. Mohamed Mursi, there have been false accusations made against him. He is somebody who has only spent a few months in office, while he was also a prisoner and came to power from (Tahrir) Square. We will not see a repeat from him of what we saw from the ousted president.

Q: What is the real reason behind your being banned from running in the previous parliamentary elections? Are there obstacles preventing you from taking part in the forthcoming parliamentary elections?

A: In the previous round of parliamentary elections, I found preventative legal obstacles in my way stating that I could not stand for election since I had not completed my military service. The reason for this is well known, namely that I was being pursued by the security authorities at home, forcing me to flee Egypt. I am dealing with this decision as a sound legal text preventing those who did not complete their military service from competing at the parliamentary elections; however in reality I do not understand the spirit of this law because my failure to perform military service was imposed on me and not of my own volition. Many Islamists were unable to perform their military service. We were prevented from performing our national duty twice; namely being prevented from performing our military service in the previous era, whilst now they are preventing us from political participation under the pretext of not completing military service. We are victims twice-over. However, I think that such a legal obstacle will not be in place this time around after the issue was discussed at the Shura Council. An exception has been made for those who want to stand for election but have not completed their military service owing to circumstances outside of their control, including political detainees and fugitives in the previous era. Therefore, I will take part in the forthcoming parliamentary elections God willing.

Q: Egypt is currently witnessing operations by Islamist militants targeting the state authorities in Sinai. What is your view of this?

A: I monitor the news that is being published about this but at the present time I am busy completing my university studies . . . my studies were disrupted for a period of approximately four decades as I was being pursued by the security authorities, whether during my time in Egypt or abroad. I left Egypt during the latter stages of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering. I had only two months left to complete my university studies . . . however today, four decades later, I find myself completing these studies. In any case, I have only two weeks left to complete my exams and graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering.

Q: Do you believe that the cooperation between the Islamist trends during the previous presidential elections can continue in the future, despite the presence of signs that say otherwise?

A: Speaking on behalf of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which is one of the Islamist trends, we extend our hands to all people. Our political belief and vision for the future of Egypt is that the country should not be ruled by any single trend; one trend is not enough for Egypt. All the Egyptian people should participate, but this participation should be based on their (political) contribution and strength . . . it is not necessary for everybody to participate with the same responsibility and extent. However everybody must participate, because Egypt is an important regional country and no single trend can bear responsibility for ruling it alone, and this includes the Islamist trend. This is the truth and this is something that we are saying transparently within the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Our brothers have numerous initiatives to reunite with all parties, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.
Our hand is outstretched to all parties, provided that their intentions are clear and there is no foreign funding or pressure. Everybody is patriotic, whether Islamist or non-Islamist, and everybody must stand together for the sake of Egypt as a whole. As for the issue of alliances: As an Islamist trend, we-of course-hope that such alliances continue.

Q: When did you enter Iran? Was this with the knowledge of the Iranian authorities?

A: I lived in Iran for a number of years following the 11 September 2001 attacks, and this was in order to avoid the situation in Afghanistan. I traveled to Iran from the countries bordering Afghanistan; we were forced to seek refuge in these countries after fleeing our country, it was not our choice to go there. Following this, the general situation (the Afghanistan war) required us to move . . . therefore some of us went to Iran and others to Pakistan. Of course, my entry to Iran was not official, and took place without the knowledge of the Iranian authorities or the Tehran regime. We were always on the run in Iran as our presence there was illegal and undercover. The majority of the brothers there ended up in prison, along with their wives and children . . . whilst some others remain imprisoned until now. The Iranian regime did not give us anything to reside there.

Q: There is currently talk about potential rapprochement between Egypt and Iran. What’s your view of this?

A: Protocol requires heads of state to attend routine summits, whether we are talking about the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) or the Non-Aligned Movement, which Egypt and Iran are both members of. As for differences of opinion between Cairo and Tehran, I believe that certain interests may converge at the regional level; however my belief is that the time is not ripe for significant convergence in this regard. We do not want to overlook Iran’s standing behind the Shiite expansion in the region, whether in terms of the Shiite crescent or Iraq or Syria or elsewhere. In reality, we do not want to exacerbate the problems that we are facing . . . however if interests are based on specific economic issues of equal value, then rapprochement is possible, as it would be anywhere in the world.
There is Egyptian rapprochement with Israel, with the US, and European states, so it is possible for there to be similar rapprochement with Iran, but no more.

Q: Do you support the demands made by the Algerian hostage takers for America to release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman?

A: Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has been crystal clear in this regard for a long period of time. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman is always on our minds and in our hearts, however the situation has changed and we do not call for any non-peaceful solutions. We support dialogue and diplomacy. He has been imprisoned since 1993 and we are calling on all countries, human rights groups and international organizations to return Omar Abdul Rahman to his homeland in a peaceful and legal manner.