KAFR AL-DIWAR, Egypt — More than 13 years after he left it, Mahmud Abouhalima came home last week to the dusty Nile delta textile town where he grew up. He brought with him his young German wife, three sons and a daughter.
But Egypt had never been lucky for Abouhalima.
By the next morning, he was under arrest and Wednesday he was handed over to FBI agents in Cairo and headed back to the United States: this time, not to look for a new life but to face charges in connection with the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
Thus concluded perhaps the final chapter in the New Jersey taxi driver's difficult story with his native land, a country he bitterly left more than a decade ago because it could provide no hope for his future, according to interviews with former friends.
"He might come to any country in this world, but I think he would never come back to Egypt," said a Luxor dentist who claimed to be one of Abouhalima's closest friends in college. "Never. Never. He hates Egypt."
This crowded, ramshackle industrial town southeast of Alexandria was overflowing Wednesday with residents on holiday, celebrating the feast that concludes the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
At the same time, thousands of Islamic fundamentalists marched toward dawn prayers in the heart of the country, carrying leaflets from the exiled Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman calling for the downfall of the Egyptian government.
Some of the suspects in the trade center bombing have worshiped at the New Jersey mosque where the blind Egyptian cleric has preached since he left Egypt in 1990, and his message to his followers in Egypt on Wednesday urged them to "say no" to the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, which the sheik's adherents say they hope to replace with a strict Islamic state.
Some 2,500 young men and women marched and prayed in Assiut, the heartland of Egyptian fundamentalism; another 3,000 rallied in nearby Manfalut. Some of the young men fired blank ammunition into the air as security forces, who in recent weeks have launched the bloodiest crackdown on fundamentalists in Egypt in decades, watched silently.
In Kafr al-Diwar, Abouhalima's family denied knowing anything about his arrest and refused all questions from reporters.
But a lifelong family friend, Ali Heikal, said Abouhalima had returned to the family home about five days ago with his family and was arrested by Egyptian security forces the following morning. "He came just at night, and the next day he was gone," he said.
Friends said Abouhalima had been a cheerful, deeply religious young man who had completed a year of studies at a teacher's college in Alexandria before deciding to emigrate first to Germany, then to the United States. He feared that he would never be able to support a wife and family in Egypt, they said.
"He was a very normal person. He adored all his friends, he adored his parents and he loved to pray," said the Luxor dentist. "He was the most popular among his friends.
"The problem in Egypt," he said, "is to be a normal man, to have a house, to have a family, to have a car. There is no opportunity--like any poor country. Me, I am 11 years a (dentist). From three years ago, I have a car. The life here is very difficult. . . . Our government is a good government, a cooperative government. But what can it do for us? What can it do for 60 million people?"
Abouhalima, he said, "hated the circumstances which strangle us."
Abouhalima, though religious, never leaned toward politics and was not a follower of Abdul Rahman when he left Egypt, all his acquaintances said. "I love him like my brother," the dentist said. "But if he had any relationship with this accident (at the trade center), I hate him, believe me. I want to destroy him before you."