Wife of convicted militant accuses govt of fabricating Sinai kidnapping

Zeinab El Gundy, Monday 20 May 2013

Wife of Sinai resident mentioned in video of kidnapped soldiers tells Ahram Online that her husband is innocent of complicity in crime, accuses interior ministry of fabricating incident

Hamda Abu Sheita
Hamda Abu Sheita (Photo: Facebook )

Hamda Abu-Sheita is a name that has been frequently mentioned since the kidnapping of seven Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula last Thursday.

Soon after news of the kidnappings broke, Sinai-based sources said that the Abu-Sheita family, along with other detainees from Salafist-jihadist groups, stood behind the kidnapping to protest the ill treatment of their detained relatives.

Officially, Ahmed Abu-Sheita (a.k.a. Hamda Abu-Sheita) has become involved – one way or another – in the soldiers' kidnapping. In a video released on Sunday that enumerated the kidnappers' demands, his name was mentioned as a political detainee from Sinai who should be released in return for the abducted soldiers.

On Friday, it was announced that Abu-Sheita and other detainees had been transferred from Tora Prison – where he was allegedly tortured – to Al-Aqrab Prison. According to the video, his release was cited as one of the kidnappers' demands.

"We're totally against the kidnapping of soldiers," said Abu-Sheita's wife – who prefers to be called Um El-Kassem – told Ahram Online via telephone. "We support the kidnapped soldiers, along with their colleagues who remain on strike at the Rafah border crossing."

Early last week, the Abu-Sheita family received news that the 36-year-old man had been severely tortured. "We learned that he had been tortured to the point that he had lost his sight; they treated him very poorly and put him in a very small prison cell," said Um El-Kassem.

On Thursday, Younes Makhioun, leader of Egypt's Salafist Nour Party, demanded better treatment for Abu-Sheita, who was close to Salafist preachers and the Nour Party in the North Sinai city of Al-Arish. The Salafist party leader demanded an immediate investigation into the alleged torture of Abu-Sheita.

Kidnappings 'fabricated'

Um El-Kassem, for her part, believes the kidnappings were "fabricated" in order to distract attention from the torture of Abu-Sheita.

"Whoever planned this kidnapping wanted to distract attention from the ill treatment and torture of Hamda while in prison; they don't want to admit that they tortured him," said the mother of four.

She went on to accuse Egypt's interior ministry of standing behind last Thursday's kidnappings.

"If the kidnapping had been carried out by Sinai locals, they would have demanded the release of all detainees without focusing exclusively on Hamda," she asserted.

Since the kidnapping, speculation has been rife about a possible dispute between Egypt's military and presidency over how to secure the soldiers' release. The presidency denied the allegation.

On Sunday, the interior ministry released Abu-Sheita's criminal record on in its official Facebook page. According the ministry, Abu-Sheita received a death sentence in absentia in August of last year for participating in anattack on a police station in the city of Al-Arish and a North Sinai branch of the Bank of Alexandria in the summer of 2011.

Those attacks resulted in the death of one army officer, three policemen and one civilian.

"If my husband was as bad as the interior ministry claims, I would have asked for a divorce," Abu-Sheita's wife, who is also his cousin, told Ahram Online.

Framed by interior ministry?

Abu-Sheita's family insists that the interior ministry framed Hamda and that he is innocent of all the charges arrayed against him.

"Hamda was accused of being a jihadist-Salafist leader, yet last Sunday night we found people on television accusing him of being an agent of both Hamas and Israel," Um El-Kassem said.

Another name frequently mentioned as a main suspect in last week's kidnappings is Hani Abu-Sheita, Hamda's brother. Within the last 24 hours, Hani has been referred to by the media as a "fugitive" involved in the soldiers' kidnapping.

Contrary to media reports, however, Hani Abu-Sheita is not a fugitive and can currently be found in the village.

"Sheikh Hani is a prominent local Quran reader," said his sister-in-law. "The authorities want to arrest him, just like any other man in Sinai."

Sheikh Hani Abu-Sheita is also known among North Sinai-based Salafist groups. On Monday, a video appeared online showing him celebrating the launch of prominent Salafist preacher Hazem Abu-Ismail's 2012 presidential campaign (Abu-Ismail was later disqualified from the presidential race).

"After the kidnapping, my cousins were summoned by security forces," said Abu-Sheita's wife. "If my cousins were implicated in this operation, all the men in our family would have been arrested."

"We don't want special treatment, we only want the application of laws prohibiting torture," she added. "The Mubarak era was better than that of President Morsi; we're going from bad to worse."

She concluded with an appeal to the government: "Either release our people or at least treat them better while they're in detention." 

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