The man who wasn't al Qaeda's number 3
Mohamed Ibrahim Makkawi (right) is often confused for al Qaeda operative Saif al-Adel (left)
February 29th, 2012
10:47 AM ET

The man who wasn't al Qaeda's number 3

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

What's in a name? If you are Mohamed Ibrahim Makkawi, years of trouble and the shadow of a senior al Qaeda figure lurking over your every move.

Makkawi's arrival at Cairo's airport Wednesday caused a brief flutter of excitement.  Could it be that one of the most senior figures in al Qaeda had been detained in dramatic (and highly unlikely) fashion after stepping off an Emirates flight from Islamabad in Pakistan? The confusion arose because Saif al-Adel - regarded as al Qaeda's third-most-senior figure - had long been associated with an alias identical to Makkawi's name.

The two men do have some common background. Both were Egyptian military officers who joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Makkawi was a major and an explosives expert in Egypt's Special Forces. He went on trial in 1987 for his Islamist connections and was dismissed from the army.  Both he and al-Adel - then a lieutenant and apparently a more active militant - left for Pakistan and joined Osama bin Laden's jihad. By 1988, Makkawi was fighting Soviet forces and their surrogates in Afghanistan.

"I last saw Makkawi in 1989 when we fought together," Mohamed Omar Abdel Rahman, another former jihadist from Egypt, told CNN Wednesday.  "I also knew al-Adel well and fought alongside with him during our jihad," added Abdel Rahman, who is also the son of the blind sheikh now serving a jail term in the United States for his involvement in the 1993 attempt to blow up the World Trade Center.

According to a source who followed al Qaeda at the time, Makkawi fell out with bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's current leader, soon after arriving in Pakistan.  By about 1990, the source says, Makkawi had given up the gun in favor of contributing to a magazine in Islamabad - Akdas Wakadaya or "Events and Issues."

Nearly a decade later, al-Adel became a wanted man for his part in the plots to blow up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. U.S. authorities published his profile as part of the Rewards for Justice program and listed "Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi" as an alias.  And the real Makkawi's nightmare began. By then, he had married a Pakistani woman and was living as a political refugee in Islamabad.

For 10 years, Makkawi was regularly confused with al Qaeda's rising star. He adopted the e-mail address "Unjustly_Guilty@.....," and from his home in Islamabad's Upper Portion began a campaign to clear his name.

CNN has obtained a copy of a letter Makkawi wrote to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 2009 that recounts his appeals to authorities in several countries.

"I am trying to resettle my normal life in Pakistan after getting married to a Pakistani lady but have accomplished nothing as a result of the Egyptian and Saudi regime's pressure on Pakistani agencies and my moral obduracy," he began.

Makkawi said his children had been expelled from school and friends, neighbors and relatives had become informants for intelligence agencies.

"After the agencies lost hope to force me to accept fake al Qaeda No. 3 role and the big 9/11 lie, they attempted to kill me and my two elder sons by despicable means," Makkawi claims, adding that at one point there had been an attempt to poison him.

In desperation, he told the UNHCR, he appealed to President George W. Bush and also asked the FBI to detain him.

"Hoping to put an end to this preposterous puppet show and to put myself under the responsibility of FBI, I sent an e-mail on 7th September 2005 to the head office of FBI requesting to be arrested and to face all accusations raised against me in a fair trial," he wrote. He did not receive a reply.

Somehow, after being denied travel papers for more than 10 years, Makkawi was apparently able to obtain travel documents from the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad. And then he boarded a plane to Cairo Wednesday, in an effort to clear his name and expunge the shadow of Saif al-Adel.

The confusion over his real identity persisted for some hours after his arrival. Eventually, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior confirmed that al-Adel was still at large.

"Mohamed Ibrahim Makkawi is not Saif al-Adel," the ministry said. "There is obvious confusion of data among security apparatus and the media. They are two different people. "

But the real Makkawi's troubles are far from over. The Interior Ministry confirmed to CNN that Makkawi was still a wanted man and faced charges of terrorism and conspiracy to topple the regime. He will remain in detention and appear before the Higher State Security Court, the ministry said.

Filed under: Afghanistan • Al Qaeda • Egypt • Middle East • Osama bin Laden • Terrorism
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. michaelfury

    What does he mean "the big 9/11 lie"?

    March 1, 2012 at 7:43 am | Reply
    • AlreadyInUse

      The lie that "he" was involved in 9/11 planning. Take it easy.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
  2. Mustapha

    I should only say God help him

    March 1, 2012 at 7:16 am | Reply
  3. flyskybird

    Its okay to kill the look-a-likes. Go ahead get another.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:53 am | Reply
    • George

      Since it doesn't matter, you first.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:59 am | Reply
  4. brown dog

    Balls, balls balls. You lick sweaty balls

    March 1, 2012 at 3:30 am | Reply
  5. brown dog

    Balls, balls , balls!!!. Just remeber to use those rags to clean up the sweat from your balls.....

    March 1, 2012 at 3:28 am | Reply
    • stateschool

      Somebody forgot to take his meds again.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:27 am | Reply
  6. The Rock

    I just know that this guy is guilty. He just looks guilty. They all do. Inside their rags is a guilt that cannot be expunged. I could but the patient would not survive. BOOM!

    March 1, 2012 at 1:03 am | Reply
  7. DrBakroChod

    Who does what ? How ?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:02 am | Reply
  8. shagpal

    funny how festering jewbagger have the terrorist "line-up" all laid out for dimwitted gulible americans. who is jewbag number one, and who is in line of succession for the jewsraeli jewbsgs?

    February 29, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Reply
    • IronV

      It must be tiring to devote so much of your life force to hate... keep your eye on the sky...

      February 29, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
      • BluPanda

        I wouldnt, north korean nukes are probably pretty bright when they go off.

        March 1, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • stateschool

      Funny how the most intolerant people always have the worst grammar. Did you ever even go to school, or did your pappy just molest you all day?

      March 1, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
  9. Master

    Another story worth to be a mission impossible movie ... Lies lies lies.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Reply
    • Wensa

      Why do you say that the Sunnis hate the AQ forces like it's some new dpeolvement? This has been hinted at in and all the way back in . If anything, we're exacerbating the problem by providing a target for both groups (Sunni insurgents and foreign AQ fighters), instead of letting each other fight it out among themselves.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  10. rob

    It seems to me a lot of losers on here are wishing for WW3 or the end of the world?? What happens happens. There's nothing you and I can do to prevent this. In the meantime, enjoy life, go out and enjoy each day as if it was your last. God put us on this planet to love and care for each other. Now for the few idiots who are miserable with their lives, don't spread garbage about end of the world and scare other people. Get a job and you won't be saying this stuff!!

    February 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  11. Rob

    @les Then the Feds are gonna have to arrest Brad Pitt.

    February 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  12. les

    What if the terrorist's name is John Smith?

    February 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  13. Joseph Brooks

    This may have not been the right guy but it does illustrate the cooperation that out intelligence people are having with intelligence people who are facing similar problems. There is always a danger in cross talk but it is better that we are sharing information and being open and honest. We can get more accomplished when we communicate than we can when we keep information in a vacuum.
    Joseph Brooks

    February 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  14. Mike B

    It reminds me of the time they thought they caught Carlos the Jackal, but it turned out it was Carlos the Weasel.

    February 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  15. lurchfreek

    I like mnms to

    February 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Reply

    yes 4 reall The two men do have some
    common background. Both were
    Egyptian military officers who
    joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad

    February 29, 2012 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • markishere

      Your website sucks, and you are clueless about marketing.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
    • Filthy Hippy

      Enough, already. Suck my crab-infested cock.

      Your site blows dead donkey dicks.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Reply
      • M-Theory

        I'm glad you can say 'crab-infested cock' here.

        February 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Raktim

      sup.yoshke. musta na. ako’y nagbalik mula sa hukay. har! har! redigrang the topic. top.299 nlang UP. siguro nung mga 1950’s nasa top 50 pa ata ang UP.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply

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