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X. Trade-Off: The Rendition to Egypt of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, `Issam Shu`aib, Khalifa Bidaiwi al-Sayyid al-Badawi, Ali`Abd al-Rahim, `Uthman al-Samman, and `Abd al-`Aziz Musa Dawud al-Gamal

Much less is known about the transfer of these six Egyptians from Yemen to Cairo, because like most wanted persons involuntarily sent to Egypt they have largely dropped from sight. According to London-based Islamists interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the six men, `Issam Shu`aib, Khalifa Bidaiwi al-Sayyid al-Badawi, `Ali `Abd al-Rahim, `Uthman al-Samman, `Abd al-`Aziz Musa Dawud al-Gamal, and Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, were transferred on February 28, 2004.152 Two of the men, al-Samman and al-Gamal, had already been sentenced to death in absentia by Egyptian military tribunals in 1992 and 1999, respectively. All six had been picked up by the Political Security Organization, Yemen’s secret police, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The most important of the six returnees was Sayyid Imam al-Sharif. The other five, said one Cairo-based analyst, “were just other members of the group.”153

Sharif was born in 1950, in the southern Egyptian province of Bani Swaif. He joined the ranks of Islamist dissent in the 1970s while studying medicine at Cairo University. He was tried in absentia, and acquitted, in the 1981 trial of Islamist suspects following President Sadat’s assassination. Al-Sharif left Egypt for the UAE in 1982, where he worked as a doctor. He then resided in Pakistan for few weeks before leaving for Saudi Arabia, and then went back to Pakistan again, where he worked for a Kuwaiti Red Crescent hospital in Peshawar.154

In Peshawar, al-Sharif worked to rebuild the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in exile, together with Ayman al-Zawahri, who was also in Peshawar at that time. Al-Sharif was elected as the group’s first leader there, and al-Zawahiri served as his deputy.

But the two quickly fell out over questions of strategy and tactics. Al-Sharif reportedly disagreed with al-Zawahri over the use of violence. Al-Sharif gave way to al-Zawahiri in 1992, the same year that the Islamist insurgency picked up again in Egypt. Al-Sharif believed that violent attacks were futile, and instead advocated slow and steady infiltration into the structure of the state, but the group as a whole decided otherwise. Al-Sharif reportedly severed his ties with the Jihad, and devoted his time to his medical work and theological studies.155

On September 10, 1993, al-Sharif took his wife and family to Sudan, where he was received on arrival by Ayman al-Zawahri, in Khartoum Airport. The relations between the two men, however, deteriorated further during al-Sharif’s time in Sudan. Al-Sharif accused al-Zawahri of incompetence, and faulted him for the escalation of violence and mass arrests of Jihad suspects inside Egypt. He took his family to Sanaa following the 1994 Yemeni civil war, and began working in a local hospital. His son Isma`il insisted his father had by then severed all links with militant groups.156

After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, al-Sharif may have known that he would come under scrutiny over his past associations with al-Zawahiri and other Islamist militants with ties to al-Qaeda. In the weeks before his arrest, al-Sharif received signals that the Yemeni state security was paying more attention to him. “There were some signs of tension between him and the state security before the arrest,” said Muhammad Salah, the Cairo bureau chief of al-Hayat.157  Al-Sharif moved houses for security reasons shortly before he was arrested.  

Dr. al-Sharif was picked up while at work at the al-Shiffa Hospital in Ibb governorate, south of Sanaa , on October 28, 2001.158 His family was not informed of his arrest.

“They asked around and found out that he was kidnapped,” said Salah. “It took two or three weeks before they found out where he was.”159

Sharif was initially held incommunicado, but eventually family members had irregular access to him: “The visits went through ups and downs,” said Salah. “Sometimes security would let them in, other times they wouldn’t.”160

During his three years in detention in Sanaa, al-Sharif was held without charge, without trial, and without access to an attorney. According to sources who maintained direct contact with the families of the six detainees, U.S. agents participated in the interrogation of all six men in detention.161

The six men were reportedly held under very poor conditions. The cells were dirty, the food substandard. Although the six men were not physically abused, the conditions of their detention can be considered a form of ill-treatment.

Despite the urgings of many prominent Yemeni politicians, including parliamentary speaker `Abdullah al-Ahmar, and tribal leaders, the Yemeni government refused to release al-Sharif. They were told, according to al-Sharif’s son Isma`il, that his case was in the hands of the U.S. ambassador in Sana'a.162 Al-Sharif’s support in Yemen had to do with his standing in the community:

They supported his release because he was a very good surgeon, and also it has to do with Islamists in general. They tend not to overcharge for their services, and they do a lot of charity work. It was also because al-Sharif was an expert on theology. He had close contacts with other Yemeni religious figures and that’s what he devoted his time to. That’s why he was supported in Yemen.163

On February 28, 2004, al-Sharif and the other five alleged militants were removed from their political security cells and put into unmarked cars. They were then driven to a small airport in Sanaa. They were then put on a plane and flown back to Cairo. For the most part, they have not been seen or heard from since.164

Sharif’s son Isma`il returned to Egypt in September 2003, to pursue his studies. According to Salah, who spoke to Isma`il, “His father urged him to return to Egypt to continue his schooling, and also to deal with some family matters.” 165 Isma`il was detained on arrival in Cairo by Egyptian state security. He was interrogated, but said he wasn’t ill-treated. Isma`il al-Sharif believes that his relatively lenient treatment and quick release are an indication that the Egyptian authorities believed his father was no longer involved with the militants who had carried out the insurgency in the 1990s.

Al-Sharif was returned to Egypt on February 28. His return was announced by the state-run al-Gumhuriyya newspaper one week later, on March 6:

Al-Gumhuriyya has learned from a senior security source that Egypt has received a big number of Jihad fugitives from abroad, including the former Emir of the group, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, who was finally arrested in Yemen. The State Security prosecutor has started interrogating several of those terrorists.166

After news of al-Sharif’s return to Egypt leaked to the press, Isma`il met with the Cairo bureau chief of al-Hayat, in order to focus more attention on al-Sharif’s case. The journalist noted that Isma`il appeared calm:

He looked calm. He sounded confident that his father wouldn’t be harmed in prison. He believed that the authorities knew that he wasn’t involved in any violence, and that he wasn’t involved in September 11. And so that’s why he was calm.167

For the past ten months, al-Sharif and the other five men have been held in incommunicado detention. Given Egypt’s past practice with regards to returned militants, all six men remain at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

As far as is known, Egypt offered no diplomatic assurances to the Yemeni government that the men would not be tortured, and has yet to even publicly acknowledge that the six men are in custody. The Yemeni government also did not seek any guarantees from the Egyptian government that the returnees would not be ill-treated. “There were no assurances asked for by the Yemeni government in this case, as in most other cases,” said Muhammad Naji Allaw, director of the Sanaa-based human rights group HOOD.168

After al-Sharif was returned to Egypt, members of his family in Egypt asked, through lawyers, to see him, but they were refused. “The government didn’t allow us to see him. They haven’t allowed us to see him since he was returned,” said one lawyer who made some informal inquiries on al-Sharif’s behalf.169 “His family came to me and also to other lawyers. We asked the government the same basic questions, where is he, can we see him, and so on.” The government said nothing. 

The same lawyer, reflecting on al-Sharif’s case, noted that all information is in control of the state, and they are under no obligation to disclose anything: “You are in front of a very dark picture, and you can’t get any information... The only news that you can get is from the state, and in this case, the state refused to say anything.”170

Sharif remains in custody, along with the other five returnees.

[152] Human Rights Watch interviews with Hani al-Seba`i, director of al-Maqreezi Center for Historical Studies, London, December 2004; Human Rights Watch interview with Yasser al-Sirri, director, Islamic Observation Center, London, December 6, 2004; “Yemen hands Egypt Islamist fugitives, including former Al-Jihad leader – report,” 20 March 2004. Translated text of Kamil al-Tawil, “Egyptian Islamists ‘kidnapped’ in Yemen, ‘al-Jiahd leader worked in Ibb hospital,” Al-Hayat, 17 March 2004. 

[153] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Salah, Cairo, December 2004.

[154] Ibid.

[155] Al-Hayat, March 3, 2004; Phone interviews with Hani al-Seba`i and Yasser al-Sirri, London, December 6, 2004.

[156] Al-Hayat, April 4, 2004.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Salah, Cairo, December 2004.

[158] Al-Hayat.  April 4, 2004

[159] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Salah, Cairo, December 2004.

[160] Ibid.

[161] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Yasser al-Sirri and Hani al-Seba’i in London, December 2004.

[162] Al-Hayat, April 4, 2004.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Salah, Cairo, December 2004.

[164] The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) told Human Rights Watch that it had tried unsuccessfully to meet with Khalifa Bidaiwi al-Sayyid al-Badawi and one other person from the group of Egyptians forcibly returned from Yemen in February 2004 after their wives had approached the group for assistance (telephone interview with Tariq al-Zaghloul, Cairo, April 12, 2005). According to al- Zaghloul, the wife of al-Badawi met with her husband at the end of Ramadan, in mid-November 2004, but the brevity of the meeting and the presence of security guards did not allow her to ascertain his treatment in detention. Al-Zaghloul also said that al-Badawi and the others were serving sentences that had been imposed in absentia by military tribunals in previous years—in al-Badawi’s case a seven year sentence imposed in 1989.

[165] Ibid.

[166] Al-Gumhuriyya, “Security Source: Egypt received Sayyid Imam al-Sharif and Large Number of Jihad Fugitives,” March 6, 2004; on file with Human Rights Watch.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, December 2004.

[168] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Muhammad Naji Allaw, Cairo, December 15, 2004.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with Mamduh Isma`il, Cairo, Egypt, December 2004.

[170] Human Rights Watch interview with Mamduh Isma`il, Cairo, Egypt, December 2004.

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