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Egypt's Leader Survives Assassination Attempt : Africa: Muslim extremists suspected in attack on Mubarak's motorcade in Ethiopia. President is unharmed.

June 27, 1995|CRAIG TURNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAIRO — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak survived an assassination attempt Monday when gunmen ambushed his motorcade as he arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a summit of African leaders.

Although his car was pocked with gunshots, Mubarak, 67, was unhurt. He immediately returned home, where, at an airport news conference, he calmly recounted the machine-gun battle that raged around his bulletproof limousine.

"Suddenly I found a blue van blocking the road and somebody jumped to the ground. A machine gun started. . . . I realized there were bullets coming at our car," he said. "I saw those who shot at me."

Ethiopian officials said Monday night that seven to nine gunmen "of Arab origin" participated in the attack and that two were killed. Two police officers also died and another was wounded, they said. Mubarak said earlier that he believed five or six men were involved in the attack and that his bodyguards shot down three of them.

Suspicion immediately focused on Muslim extremists, who have plotted against Mubarak in the past and are engaged in a bloody rebellion in central Egypt aimed at replacing his government with a religious state. There were suggestions of possible involvement by Sudan, where the militant Islamist government has been accused by Egypt and the United States of exporting terrorism.

Police in Addis Ababa told reporters that they had seized Islamist literature, along with rocket-propelled grenades and other arms, from a gray stone house used by the would-be assassins for five days before the shooting.

Egypt's official Middle East News Agency, citing unnamed Ethiopian sources, said the house had been rented by a Sudanese. The official Ethiopian News Agency quoted the landlady as saying the renter identified himself as a Yemeni named Sirak Mohammed.

One U.S. official in Washington said three men had been arrested in the incident and that two were Sudanese, but there was no confirmation of this from Ethiopia or Egypt.

*

At his news conference, Mubarak stopped just short of implicating Sudan in the shooting. Asked by a reporter if a "neighboring country" might be involved, Mubarak replied: "Do you want to say Sudan? [This] is very possible, very possible."

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry denied any complicity and expressed "sorrow for what has happened."

A caller claiming to speak for the militant Muslim Vanguards of Conquest called an international news agency in Cairo with praise for the gunmen. "The Vanguards of Conquest bless this action. If Mubarak escaped this time, he won't escape next time. . . . The Vanguards of Conquest will knock the last nail into his coffin," he said.

The caller hung up without answering questions.

Vanguards of Conquest is the military wing of the Jihad movement, which assassinated Anwar Sadat, Mubarak's predecessor, in a similar public attack in Cairo in 1981. Several members have been executed in Egypt's ongoing struggle against Muslim radicals.

Monday's attack appeared to be the result of considerable planning, with, by some accounts, gunmen firing from a rooftop as well as the street. Mubarak was on a one-day visit to Addis Ababa to address the opening session of the Organization of African Unity.

According to witnesses and official accounts in Addis Ababa, the assault took place near the Palestinian Embassy not far from the airport and began when two vehicles, including a blue, four-wheel-drive utility truck, dashed into the road and blocked the three-car motorcade. Men armed with what were described as AK-47 assault rifles sprang from the vehicles and loosed a fusillade of bullets. Mubarak's presidential guard, grouped in one of the cars, and Ethiopian security forces returned fire. "There was blood all over the place," one witness told Reuters news agency.

Several bullets glanced off Mubarak's car, and he said one hit the windshield. "Some [gunmen] were raining bullets from the roof. Others were on the ground," said Mubarak, who added that he was confident of his safety because of the armor plating on his Mercedes-Benz.

Mubarak's car swerved back to the airport while another vehicle carrying Foreign Minister Amir Moussa also escaped.

No one in the Egyptian delegation was injured, Mubarak said. But Yusif Rajab--the Palestinian ambassador to Ethiopia, who coincidently was exiting the embassy when the firefight broke out--was hit in the leg by a stray bullet. Rajab was treated at a hospital and released.

After the shooting stopped, the bodies of the dead were quickly removed, leaving a litter of broken glass and ejected shells on the bloodstained, bullet-gouged pavement.

*

On his return to Cairo, Mubarak was met amid very heavy security by members of his government and his two sons, Alaa, 30, and Gamal, 28. Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, was out of the country Monday.

Mubarak later fielded questions from reporters while standing in front of an oversize portrait of himself in the airport lounge.

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