Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Egyptian Suspect

Issandr el-Amrani (the editor of Cairo Magazine) is saying that he thinks the Egyptian (bio)chemist Magdy Al Nashar may have had nothing to do with the bombings in London. He's also got a very good backgrounder on the guy in the magazine, which does tend to support the idea that al-Nashar had far more to lose than he had to gain by assisting in the attack.

But then there's a flipside. When the communiqué was released just after the bombings, Juan Cole (Prof. of History at Michigan Uni) said that it struck him as the writing of an Egyptian in the Ikhwan or al-Jihad al-Islami mould rather than a Salafi in the al-Q mould.

Juan Cole quotes al-Hayat as saying that the guy is now confessing helping Hasib Hussein (the bus bomber) get an apartment - the one currently being searched by UK police. There are some reports swirliing suggesting that Nashar may even have had links to Islamic Jihad, but some of these have been pulled so they don't look very robust at present.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry, for its part, is reiterating that al-Nashar is claiming to be innocent, and is emphasising that they believe that he has nothing to do with al-Qa'eda in any way, shape or form.

This is at odds with British claims that a 'clear al Qa'eda link' is likely.

I wonder why the Egyptian government is saying what it's saying, then.

It could tie into the country's general downplaying of anything resembling organised militant activity - vid. the reaction to the small spate of terrorist attacks in Cairo in April, which the government attributed to a small, badly organised group of radicals.

For one, the government has long suggested that after Omar Suleiman's crackdown, organised militancy is no more in Egypt, so the claims fit that pattern. For another, it may have something to do with the internal politics of the NDP - after all, the argument of the old guard has long been that democratisation would open up a Pandora's Box of Islamic radicalism and violence, and that the only way to maintain stability is to maintain the state of emergency and military control.

Mubarak the elder has made an explicit decision to side with the reformist wing of the NDP, leaving the old guard looking very confused and rather disorganised. Any hint of organised militancy could play into their hands, though, as it would translate into political capital readily cashed with the military.

That said, I don't think this guy is the mastermind - more likely some peripheral character who was leant on to help find a flat and later to provide materials smuggled out of the lab.

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