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interview: fouad allam

General, can we start by talking about how terrorism developed in Egypt over the years that you were working against it?

The first organization in Egypt was [the Muslim] Brotherhood. They established themselves in 1928. After that there many other organizations like el-Takfeer Wel Hegra, el-Jihad and Gama el-Isalamiya. They think that only they know Islam and the other people are not Muslim; they have very wrong thoughts and we tried to explain the right thoughts of Islam. Now, we get the best way to make a dialogue with them and correct their thoughts.

Before we get to how we solved the problem in Egypt, let us talk about some of the problems. What kind of things were the terrorists doing?

They killed many famous people and tried to kill many famous people. They tried to kill ... the prime minister of Egypt at that time. And they tried to make some explosions in some cinemas and nightclubs and other things like this.

How did the Egyptian government respond to these activities?

For many years, they [took] a wrong way, as they arrested them and put them in prisons. But from my experience, I can say that the best way is to attack the terrorists' thoughts. You must make a dialogue with them to correct their thoughts.

about fouad allam

For 20 years, General Fouad Allam headed Egypt's security service. Following Anwar el-Sadat's assassination in 1981, the new president, Hosni Mubarak, and General Allam waged a campaign against radical Islam not seen since the days of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s. It included unlawful arrest, detention without trial, and torture to force confessions. Thousands of suspected terrorists were rounded up and jailed, among them Shiek Omar Abdel Rahman, who was later convicted of conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is one of two top lieutenants in Osama bin Laden's organization. This interview was conducted mid-September 2001. The following transcript is a translation.

It has been said by many people in the West and the terrorists themselves and radical groups, they complained that in Egypt, brutal methods were used by the government; torture, execution, unlawful imprisonment that these methods were used to try to stop the terrorists. Is this true?

No, they try to say that but it is not true. The truth is that sometimes when they are going to arrest someone of them, they try to kill the policemen, and the policemen must do something to defend themselves against them.

So are you saying no one has been tortured in Egyptians prisons?

When they go against the rules of prison, our law tells us how to deal with them. When Brotherhood [members] were in prison in 1954, they tried to burn the prison and kill one of the generals in the prison. Then the policemen attacked them and killed some in the prison.

Because Egypt was very tough on terrorists, many of them left your country and went to live in other countries. Can you tell me what happened to these men when they came to live in England and the United States?

Yes, in 1981 after Sadat was killed, some of these organizations el-Jihad and al-Gama al-Islmayia, got out of Egypt. First, they went to Sudan, then Saudi Arabia, then Afghanistan. And now many of them live in Britain. Some of them went to the States -- the famous one is Omar Abdel Rahman. I think it is a big mistake to give them the political asylum in England and some other place in the world.

We have been told by the Egyptian government that currently there are 21 different Egyptian terrorist organizations who have now headquarters in London, and that there are many terrorists that you would like to persecute and put in prison, but they live in the United Kingdom and the British government have refused in the past to give them back to Egyptian courts.

... I think there are not 21 organizations, but more than 51. [We went through the legal procedures] to ask the British authority to deliver them but they refused because they think it is a matter of human rights. That's why they refused.

They say they will not give back these people because they think these people will be ill-treated; they will be tortured or beaten. Was that a legitimate fear? Was that a legitimate reason for the British not to give these people back?

I can say, in Egypt, all the world know that our judges are the best judges in all the world, and [defendants] can get all the rights [necessary] to defend themselves if they can. [Ten years ago] we opened courts and all the journalists from all the world were there, and they say that there is nothing [taken away from] the rights of those criminals. ...

The young men who become terrorists. It is very difficult for Americans to understand the mentalities and personalities of these people; they are often portrayed as psychopaths. Is that your experience?

... I can say especially in Egypt most of them are psychopathic, and not clever. That I get from my experience. I think also in other countries there are the same thing.

There is a very well known terrorist called al-Zawahiri and he works with bin Laden and he is Egyptian. Tell me about your personal experience with this man.

In 1981, after Sadat killed, he was one of al-Jihad organization. He was student in medical school; his uncle, Mr. Salem Azam, is a very big leader from the Brotherhood who lives in London. Azam and al-Zawahiri made connection with al-Jihad organization after he got out of prison and went froml Egypt to Saudi Arabia. Then he met bin Laden and Omar Abdel Rahman and went to Afghanistan.

Before we come to that, back to 1981--he was arrested after the assassination of President Sadat, and you had the opportunity to interview him and interrogate him. What kind of man was he?

I think he is not clever. ... I think he had some problems in his life. But he wasn't very aggressive as you think [of him] now. I don't know what happened after he went to Afghanistan and see bin Laden.

When you look back, could you imagine that he could be responsible and help plan for murder thousands of people?

If you mean what happened in the United Sates, I think it is very difficult to see that Ayman al-Zawahiri or bin Laden commit this crime. But I think there are a big organization from many religions from many nationalities. Maybe al-Zawahiri and bin Laden got an opportunity to connect with this organization. But by themselves only, it is too difficult. ... This crime depends on people who lived in America for a long time and study about flights in the States, because they made this crime in a very good way. Bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri do not have this experience and they are not clever enough to make this crime in this way. ...

It has been said that it is war against terrorism and evil. The U.S president has vowed to hit back at the terrorists and bring justice to them and to the nations that protect them. And every one assumes he means Arab nations, where these terrorists have bases and support. Is that the way the battle should be fought to prevent further attacks?

We hate terrorism; we are against terrorism. But I think the war is not the best way to attack the terrorism and make success against them. From our experience, I can say that the violence against terrorism is not the way to get success against them. The best way is to know what they want, why they are against us, why they do that crime. If we know that and if we explain to them all the wrong thoughts in their minds, I think this is the best way. ...

I understand exactly what you are saying. But it is difficult for Americans to accept that they must now talk to these terrorists who have just murdered thousands of American citizens, innocent people. Why should America talk to these terrorists?

I do not want to say that you are going to talk with terrorists but [to try to understand] with their thoughts. Because if you [don't], after one year or two years or three years or more or less, they begin to come back because the thoughts are still under the ground. They can come up and they make a new organization. From my experience, I can assure you that when they come back they will become more violence, more crimes, and they make revenge because they think that they put in the prison without trial. That is why they become more violence and make crimes after that.

I know that it is a very big problem for the States now and they must do something. But I think that it will be a big mistake if they make a war, which terrorists are going to make a war against all the world. There are many organizations all over the world--in Britain, in Brussels, in Germany, in Turkey, in Japan, in Israel. And you know that Sharon has a big history as a terrorist man. What are you going to do -- you will make a war against Afghanistan only? That is a big mistake to go in this way.

In Egypt, for a long time the government thought the best way of fighting terrorism was with an iron fist, to lock people up, to beat them, to execute them?

[And] what happened after that? They killed Mr. Sadat. ... that's what happened when they take [the iron fist approach]. But now, what's happened? After ten years, after we take the best way to make a dialogue with them, we become stable.

But you cannot expect Americans to start having dialogue with the people who attacked the World Trade Center?

With their thoughts -- not with them. First, they must know the organization. Second, they must know why they do these crimes. Third, they must explain to them that this is a wrong way and this is a wrong thought. After that you can get a good result. But how are you to make a war against those who live in Japan? There are many organizations in the States. Are you going to make war on them?

... If they hate some policy of the States, maybe it is wrong; maybe it is right. But you must discuss this. You must know the reasons why they oppose the States. It is not the best way to go ahead to make war. But the best way is to know why they come in this way and why they do this crimes. And to make a dialogue with their thoughts to explain that they understand a wrong thing and you must correct their thoughts to be safe in the future.

Given all your experience, are you optimistic that America will be successful in its war on terrorism?

If they study this problem in a good way, they must make success. But if they go in the wrong way, I think it will be a big problem, not only for the States, but for all the world.

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