Training Scholars or Breeding Terrorists?

The Egyptian authorities claim there are dangerous individuals with jihadist intentions among the European students. A number of students from France, Belgium and the United Kingdom for instance are suspected of involvement in a bomb attack in Cairo in February which killed a French tourist. The chief suspects -- Dodi Hoxha, a French woman of Albanian descent, and Farouk Taher Ibn Abbas, a Belgian of Tunisian origin -- have been subjected to heavy-handed interrogation since April, a diplomatic source reported on condition of remaining anonymous. Both studied at Al-Fajr, director Al-Gohari confirms when asked.

The Belgian chief suspect reportedly confessed that he had been ordered to return to Belgium to prepare a bomb attack in Paris. Questions from this reporter about evidence were not answered. But an informal source in the Egyptian public prosecution department said the suspects had travelled from Egypt to the Gaza strip and became involved with extremist groups there.

It is not the first time the Egyptian security service claimed to have rounded up a cell of jihadist European students. Three years ago, nine French people, two Belgians and a Dutch person, all of North African origin, were picked up. They were allegedly recruiting suicide commandos in Egypt for the war in Iraq. After just over a week of questioning, they were deported. There was no evidence. Back in Europe authorities saw no reason to hold the students.

Current "Solution" Might be Part of the Problem

Al-Gohari is not at all surprised. He says the Egyptian security service often keeps surveillance on specific foreign students at the request of European secret services. "I know it for certain, because an agent himself told me." He sees a paradox in this. "The West often accuses Egypt of being a breeding ground for fanatics, but in actuality we are getting extremists from Europe."

The director does not see it as a problem that language institutes like Al-Fajr are thought to provide intelligence. "We coordinate everything with the security service. It is for a good cause." But he believes the Egyptian security service's hard-line approach makes the problem worse than it actually is. "Agents treat the foreign students who are arrested terribly." He says this has an adverse effect. "This way you create an enemy you might not have had before."

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