- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2011

Egypt has recaptured the “vast majority” of the thousands of prisoners who escaped or were set free during its revolution earlier this year, the country’s ambassador to the U.S. told The Washington Times.

In a newsmaker interview, Ambassador Sameh Shoukry said “there’s been a lot of progress” in rounding up the nearly 23,000 Egyptian prisoners who went free under murky circumstances during the 18-day revolution that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

“I think the vast majority of them have been recaptured, reimprisoned,” Mr. Shoukry said Thursday. “There’s still some - I don’t know the exact numbers, maybe one or two thousand - that still haven’t been recaptured, but the government is doing everything possible.

“It’s a difficult situation,” he added. “There’s a lack of security forces to do the normal policing work to be able to capture them, but I think progressively they will all be brought back to justice.”

Mr. Shoukry’s estimate was matched independently by a high-ranking Egyptian military official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue. This official said the percentage of those recaptured now stands at 85 percent to 90 percent, up from roughly 60 percent two to three months ago.

The escapees included mostly thieves and other common criminals. But, as The Times previously reported, U.S. intelligence officials feared that several jihadists also had also gone free.

Following the jailbreaks, senior Obama administration officials provided Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces with a list of about two-dozen prominent terrorists whom the U.S. believed may have escaped during the revolutionary chaos.

The list included Rafa Ahmed Taha, a former leader in the Egyptian Islamic Group and one of the original signatories of Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war against the United States, as well as Shawky Salama Mostafa and Mohammad Hassan Mahmoud, both with al Qaeda links who were captured by U.S. forces in Albania in 1998 and extradited to Egypt.

According to a U.S. official, Taha and Mostafa are both believed to be in Egyptian custody while Mahmoud’s status remains “unclear.”

In his interview, Mr. Shoukry said he hoped the restoration of order would help reinvigorate tourism - the lifeblood of Egypt’s economy - which has sharply dropped since the beginning of the year.

“It’s a good time to be in Egypt,” he said. “The tourist venues are light, so you can take better advantage of them, but it’s a great time to be back. And I think people who go back find that the security situation is better than how it’s perceived from abroad.

“One is always a little more apprehensive of what’s going on, but life does go on. And I, myself, when I went home, was surprised at the degree of normalcy that existed.”

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