The Arab Spring rebellions last year led to the overthrow of several dictators. But while this was happening something rather predictable also took place. Islamic conservative, and even radical, groups demonstrated broad popular support and seemed poised to dominate some of the new governments. This alarmed counter-terrorism officials, who saw these newly democratic nations possibly turning into sanctuaries for Islamic terrorists fleeing from pressure elsewhere. None of the newly liberated Arab states openly support this but with so many Islamic radicals in newly elected governments, the potential remains.
An example of how this works recently unfolded in Egypt. On February 28th, airport security officers in the Cairo airport arrested a man who had just arrived from Pakistan. He identified himself using an alias believed used by Sayf al Adel, a wanted Egyptian Islamic terrorist who had fled the country in 1988. Al Adel went to Pakistan and eventually joined bin Laden and the newly formed al Qaeda.
Back in the 1990s, the government had suppressed an Islamic radical uprising, and most of the Islamic radicals were killed, imprisoned, or fled the country. One of those, Ayman al Zawahiri, went on to become second in command to Osama Bin Laden and, when bin Laden was killed last year, the current head of al Qaeda. Al Zawahiri was the last leader of the main Egyptian Islamic terror organization (Egyptian Islamic Jihad) and he merged the remnants of that group with al Qaeda in 1998.
Sayf al Adel apparently fled to Iran in late 2001, and was believed held under house arrest there. Two years ago Sayf al Adel was reported to be in Pakistan, but nothing more is known about what he is doing or exactly where he is. Sayf al Adel is wanted by the United States (offering a $5 million reward for his capture), Egypt, and Saudi Arabia for terrorist acts, and most Arab countries are ready to arrest him if they have the opportunity.
The Egyptians quickly confirmed that the Sayf al Adel they had arrested was not the Sayf al Adel they were looking for but another wanted terrorist of lesser importance.