Keep Terror Suspects Out of Egypt

By MARIAM FAM, Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt -- The activist group Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged foreign governments to stop turning over suspected extremists to Egypt unless the country shows it does not torture prisoners.

In a 53-page report, the New York-based group charged that a number of Islamic militants and other suspects had been tortured after being handed over to Egypt by several countries, including the United States.

"Do not under any circumstances extradite, render, or otherwise transfer to Egypt persons suspected or accused of security offenses unless and until the government of Egypt has demonstrated that it has ended practices of torture and ill-treatment," the report urged.

Top Egyptian officials couldn't be reached immediately for questions about the report. There was no immediate U.S. comment.

In April, President Bush was asked about sending terror suspects abroad to a third country for interrogations.

"We operate within the law, and we send people to countries where they say they're not going to torture the people," Bush said. "The United States government has an obligation to protect the American people ... We expect the countries where we send somebody to not to torture as well.

Human Rights Watch said it knew of at least 63 people being sent to -- and in a few cases from -- Egypt since 1995, based on press reports and interviews with exiled activists, Egyptian lawyers, human rights groups and detainees' families. The actual number was likely much higher, it said.

The group said that most transfers happen with no due process protections and that detainees are often held for prolonged periods without contact with outsiders.

The practice has increased since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States, with American authorities sending some suspects to Egypt and elsewhere and pressing other countries to do the same.

The report cited the case of Mamdouh Habib, an Egypt-born Australian citizen, who said he was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and was interrogated by American agents.

Habib said he was then sent to Egypt, where he alleges he was tortured in prison for six months before being transferred to the prison for terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the report said. It said he was released after three years.

Human Rights Watch said that in some cases, Egypt has refused to acknowledge detainees are in custody.

"In the handful of cases in which information eventually does surface, it turns out that the suspects have been tortured or otherwise severely mistreated," the group charged.

It cited the case of six alleged Egyptian militants who the report said were sent from Yemen to Egypt against their will but whose detention has not been officially acknowledged by the Egyptian government.

In an apparent swap, the report said, a few days before the handover of the six, a former Yemeni brigadier general living in exile in Egypt, Ahmad Salim Ubaid, was snatched from a Cairo street and taken to Yemen. He was later released, the report said.

Another case is that of Mohammed al-Zawahri, an alleged former Islamic militant who is the brother of the Egyptian extremist who became al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.

The report claims Mohammed al-Zawahri was kidnapped while in the United Arab Emirates on business in early 1999 and returned to Egypt. After a newspaper report, Egypt finally acknowledged it had him in custody in March 2004, the group said.