Egyptian security officials have said the bombing and shootings in downtown
Cairo on Saturday were acts of revenge connected to a 7 April bomb blast investigation.
[The two women and one man involved in yesterday’s attacks] are reported to have been related to Ashraf Said, a suspect in the 7 April bombing who died in police custody a few days ago.
General Fuad Allam, former head of Egyptian security, believes the attacks were poorly coordinated and executed and not the work of a terror organisation.
"I believe that this is an individual act. What happened today is the aftermath of the al-Azhar bombing. The bomber in the Abd al-Munaim Riyad district was one of the most wanted men in connection with the al-Azhar bombing," he told Aljazeera.net.
Muhammad Sayid Said, political expert at the Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies, believes government torture of suspects might have been the motive for the revenge attacks. "If the Interior Ministry's account is true, then these women were harmed some way or another very severely, and this bombing and shooting came as revenge. The family for sure suffered torture besides the disrespect that occurs in such circumstances [detention]," he told Aljazeera.net.
Obviously, a relative being tortured does not give anyone a greenlight to kill innocent people (or anybody else for that matter). If the attackers had survived they should have been punished to full extent of the law. But if you're looking to understand what fueled the attacks--not to excuse them but to think about how society can work to avoid them on the future--well, here's potential factor.
It’s worth recalling Lawrence Wright’s fascinating New Yorker profile of Osama’s right hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. As an Islamic militant, Zawahiri was considered a co-conspirator in the assassination of Sadat. He was tortured (after which, he named names):
His allegations of torture were substantiated by forensic medical reports, which noted evidence of six injuries from assaults with "a solid instrument." He was also supported by the testimony of one of the intelligence officers, who said that he had seen Zawahiri, "his head shaved, his dignity completely humiliated, undergoing all sorts of torture."
The officer went on to say that he had been in the interrogation room when another prisoner was brought in. The officers demanded that Zawahiri confess to complicity in the assassination plot in front of his fellow-conspirator. When the prisoner said, "How can you expect him to confess when he knows that the penalty is death?" Zawahiri reportedly replied, "The death penalty is more merciful than torture."
Zawahiri was released in 1984, a hardened radical.
As Wright wrote, torture’s connection to jihadism traces all the way back to godfather of modern jihadism, Sayyid Qutb:
The theme of humiliation, which is the essence of torture, is important to understanding the Islamists' rage against the West. Egypt's prisons became a factory for producing militants whose need for retribution—they called it "justice"—was all-consuming.
Stories about Sayyid Qutb's suffering in prison have formed a kind of Passion play for Islamic fundamentalists. Qutb had a high fever when he was arrested, but the state-security officers handcuffed him and took him to prison. He fainted several times on the way. For several hours, he was kept in a cell with vicious dogs, and then, during long periods of interrogation, he was beaten.
The hardening of Qutb's views can be traced in his prison writings. Through friends, he managed to smuggle out, bit by bit, a manifesto entitled "Ma'alim fi al-Tariq" ("Milestones"). The manuscript circulated underground for years. It was finally published in
Cairo in 1964, and was quickly banned; anyone caught with a copy could be charged with sedition.
The upshot: Torture doesn’t just have a moral cost, it has a
practical one. We might have just seen that in
UPDATE. Let me pre-empt a potential objection: In the 1990s, Egypt did seem to squash the jihadist. But let's remember, in the process Zawahiri, perhaps deciding conditions weren't too suitable in Egypt, took off to hang with Bin Laden, first in Sudan and later in Afghanistan. They first started hanging in 1993 and announced their marriage in February1998. The first large scale attacks ascribed to al-Qaida--the bombings of the U.S. embassies in West Africa--happened six months later. Zawahiri has been indicted in those attacks.
And then there's Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the 'Blind Sheik'). You might remember him as the man who inspired the 1993 bombing of the WTC. As Newsweek once put it, "Throughout the 1980s, Rahman called for replacing the Egyptian government with a theocratic state. Under pressure at home, he moved to the United States in 1990."
So, yes, Egypt quelled the terrorism at home. But...is there an Arabic word for blowback? (Or for when your blows hits your allies instead?)