London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Former Egyptian Special Forces officer turned jihadist, Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi, led a top-secret Egyptian military unit that specialized in combating terrorism, however it has been revealed that the FBI has confused him with reported interim Al Qaeda leader Saif Al-Adel, the so-called “third man” of Al Qaeda. The FBI, and consequently a number of media outlets, have listed “Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi” as one of Saif Al-Adel’s aliases when in fact Makkawi is a completely different figure.
Saif Al-Adel is thought to have masterminded the 7 August 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, resulting in hundreds of deaths. The United States State Department’s Reward for Justice Program is offering up to $5 million for his location. According to the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list, Saif Al-Adel is wanted by the United States for “Conspiracy to kill United States nationals, to murder, to destroy buildings and property of the United States, and to destroy the National Defense utilities of the United States.” The only problem is that this same website lists “Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi” as an alias of Saif Al-Adel, whilst the real Makkawi has been living openly in Islamabad as a political refugee for a number of years. Makkawi has reportedly even asked the Americans to put him on trial to confirm that he is not the outlaw that they are seeking.
However the mix-up over Saif Al-Adel and Makkawi can be explained in that both figures are former Egyptian army officers who left the army to join Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad group [EIJ], and both figures fought alongside the mujahedeen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Makkawi later disagreed with the Al Qaeda leadership, leaving Afghanistan and traveling to Pakistan where he settled down, marrying a Pakistani local and starting a family. Makkawi applied for political asylum in Islamabad, after the US and Egyptian authorities issued warrants for his arrest. Makkawi’s disagreement with Al Qaeda, and particularly with former Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, reached the point that the former Egyptian jihadist described Bin Laden’s war as being “the war of the goats.” This is in reference to an old Egyptian proverb which describes that which is outdated as belonging to “the days of the war of the goats.”
Asharq Al-Awsat received a number of messages from Makkawi a few months ago, in preparation of conducting an interview with the Egyptian Islamist. Makkawi also sent Asharq Al-Awsat copies of letters he had sent to the UNHCR in Islamabad, and other letters to a former senior member of the EIJ. Asharq Al-Awsat delayed publishing the messages received by Makkawi in the hopes of conducting a broader interview with him, before contact was lost.
In any case, many media outlets continue to confuse Makkawi with Saif Al-Adel, however Asharq Al-Awsat can today confirm that “Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi” is not an alias of Saif Al-Adel and that he has no connection or affiliated to Al Qaeda. Asharq Al-Awsat is also in possession of a photograph of Makkawi, which it obtained through an intermediary, and which does not resemble the purported photograph of interim Al Qaeda leader Saif Al-Adel.
Makkawi revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “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 “Saif Al-Adel” as part of a list of 22 of the most wanted terrorist issued by the FBI, even though I have no connection to Al Qaeda or its operations.”
In his message to Asharq Al-Awsat, written a few months prior to the killing of Bin Laden, Makkawi writes “I am sending you a draft titled “My Message to the Human Conscience” with my application to the UNHCR. Maybe it can give you an idea of my status, what I faced and what I suffered from, after the fabricated 9/11 event…forced me to join them in their immoral conspiracy, as I am the only one alive [with] evidence against the big 9/11 lie. I kept silent for 10 years. But I never imagined that this oppression would sink to such an immoral level. They thought that these pressures would eventually strangle me to the point of surrender but they have yet to appreciate the fact that I am a veteran fighter.”
He adds “my issue is the issue of the [Islamic] Ummah; a superpower creates an intricate lie to insult the Ummah, disfigure the image of our Religion, occupy Muslim lands and blackmails the international community by creating a puppet enemy to justify its barbaric hegemony. I would like to be direct with you; the War on Terror is in fact a war on select targets determined by America and of all countries, Britain.”
Makkawi ends this message by telling Asharq Al-Awsat, “instead of an interview, I would rather you stay in touch with me and I will reveal to you surprising facts related to 9/11, the War on Terror, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the double crossing games [being] played by Pakistan and Iran and much more”
Makkawi signed off this message by thanking Asharq Al-Awsat for its “co-operation and humane feelings” towards his issues and reluctance to conduct an interview.
In a second message, Makkawi reveals to Asharq Al-Awsat that the claims that Saif Al-Adel was accused in “case No. 401 for the restoration of the [Egyptian] Jihad organization and overthrow [of] the Egyptian regime in 1987” are false as “I was the man accused in this case, and there was never this person [Saif Al-Adel] with us in prison.” He adds “here you can understand that my name is not just the alias of Saif al Adel as you mentioned, but in fact we are facing the conspiracy of the adoption of my name and history for evil cause.”
Makkawi also told Asharq Al-Awsat “in truth, I am not him [Saif al-Adel]. I was forced to deny this voluntarily, after my release from prison in Egypt, after I was accused by the regime of trying to restore the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group with the objective of overthrowing the regime on 23 June 1987, but the regime failed in providing any evidence against me.”
Makkawi revealed that following this, he tried to settle down in Saudi Arabia, before eventually settling down in Pakistan. Makkawi vehemently denied all the US allegations against him, and challenged the US to prove that he is Saif Al-Adel.
In the message to Asharq Al-Awsat, Makkawi writes “my children have been eating just bread for almost a year, whilst the children of the prime suspect [Osama Bin Laden] are all married to one or two women and have given him 15 grand-children, and enjoy the hospitality and generosity of the government of the Wilayat al-Faqih [i.e. Iran]….isn’t this clearly an intentional thing [against me]?”
In another message to Asharq Al-Awsat, dated 31 July 2010, Makkawi writes that “there is an immoral extortion campaign against the US and its allies and the Islamic movement being led by Pakistan, for its own motives.” He adds that “Pakistan has all of these international terrorists in its hands…and is using them for its own immoral purposes.”
He also claimed that “the Pakistani military intelligence have been carrying out a shadow war against the US and its allies in Afghanistan over the past 9 years, by supporting the so-called Afghan insurgency and international terrorism, in the hopes of linking the solution in Afghanistan, and the provision of a safe and suitable US withdrawal from Afghanistan…with a simultaneous solution to their crisis with India in Kashmir.”
Makkawi said that “for Pakistan, resolving the problem is Kashmir would mean resolving 80 percent of the national security challenges, and this is something that they have previously tried, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, however they did not achieve what they wanted as the US and its allies are well aware of this, but they are forced to maintain their strategic alliance with Pakistan for reasons that are obvious to everybody.”
He added “Pakistanis believe that the US and its allies being embroiled in Afghanistan is an opportunity sent from heaven, and they view this as a chance to solve their national security dilemma [regarding India].”
As for his own personal problems, Makkawi revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “I put forward an application to UNHCR over 8 months ago, and despite the fact that I am the most deserving person on the face of the earth for asylum, they froze my application due to the intervention of the Pakistani security apparatus.”
Makkawi also revealed that he has called on the UN to help him and his family to gain political asylum in any country that protects human rights. In Makkawi’s correspondence with UNHCR, which he sent a copy of to Asharq Al-Awsat, Makkawi describes himself as a “former Colonel” and claims that his children have been deprived of their education, and that his family are under “constant assault of defamation and oppression.” In any case, what is certain is that this would-be political refugee in Islamabad is not interim Al Qaeda leader, Saif Al-Adel.