On October 24, Egyptian officials raided an apartment in Nasr City, a neighborhood in Cairo, suspected of housing a terrorist cell with ties to the September 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. A firefight ensued and one of the suspected terrorists was killed. An Egyptian police official explained to Agence France Presse that the man “is suspected of having connections with the group that carried out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.”
While the Nasr City raid has received little attention in the American press, it has led to a slew of reports in the Egyptian and Arabic media. Not all of these reports are consistent with another, of course, as there is still significant uncertainty surrounding the whole affair. The investigation is still in its beginning stages. But Egyptian officials have openly connected the Nasr City cell to al Qaeda.
General Mohieddin al Sayyed, an Egyptian interior ministry official, has explained to the press that the “police department received information indicating that a terrorist, a member of al Qaeda, was present in an apartment” in Nasr City prior to the raid.
Other al Qaeda-linked extremists are reportedly involved with the Nasr City cell. These men have clear ties to the September 11 protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, too.
A Pro-Al Qaeda Ideologue
One of them is Sheikh ‘Adel Shehato, a longtime Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) leader who was imprisoned for years and released after the fall Mubarak’s government. Ayman al Zawahiri, who headed the EIJ, formally merged his organization with al Qaeda years ago. And the EIJ was tightly allied with Osama bin Laden’s venture even before the formal merger.
Egyptian authorities have arrested Shehato and accused him of founding and financing the Nasr City cell.
There is not dispute over where Shehato’s loyalties lie. During an interview in 2011, Shehato was asked what the EIJ believes in today. “We still espouse the old jihadi ideology that is today the ideology of Sheikh Ayman Al Zawahiri, the late Sheikh Osama bin Laden, and Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi,” Shehato replied, according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
More recently, Shehato has been seen in al Qaeda’s videos. Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir, likes to include video clips of Egyptian jihadists with whom he agrees in al Qaeda’s propaganda videos. In Zawahiri’s September 10 video, for instance, Shehato can be seen in the foreground of one such clip. Shehato doesn’t speak, but is seen nodding in agreement as another al Qaeda favorite, Ahmed ‘Ashoush, proclaims Osama bin Laden a martyr.
Sitting next to Shehato is Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman al Zawahiri’s younger brother.
Both Shehato and Mohammed al Zawahiri helped incite the September 11 protest in Cairo, which occurred hours before the attack in Benghazi. A video released in October by Al Faroq media, an Egyptian jihadist propaganda outfit that openly espouses al Qaeda’s ideology, shows Shehato attending the protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
“We came here to support the Messenger of Allah, Allah's peace and prayer be upon him,” Shehato said during the protest, “and we say to the expatriate pigs, wait for the army of Muhammad.” The Al Faroq video was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Shehato has been especially brazen in advocating for al Qaeda. A publication based in Cairo, Al-Shuruq al-Jadid, recently referred to Shehato’s platform in Tahrir Square as “the tent of al Qaeda supporters.”
Since his arrest, according to multiple accounts, Shehato has denied wrongdoing. But Egyptian officials say they had enough evidence to arrest him and that he intended to flee to Libya.