Mahmoud Shafiq Mohamed Mostafa, the man identified by Egyptian authorities as the perpetrator of the St. Peter and St. Paul church bombing was reportedly arrested in 2014 in Hawatem Square in Fayoum along with a colleague, according to lawyer Yasmine Hossam al-Din, who represented him at the time.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced that Mostafa bombed the Cairo church on Sunday using an explosive belt, in his speech at the official state funeral for the victims of the explosion on Monday afternoon.
Hossam al-Din, who represented Mostafa during his trial in 2014, said he happened to be in the vicinity of a Muslim Brotherhood protest in Fayoum when he was arrested and subsequently charged with protesting without a permit, arms possession and joining a banned group.
Mostafa was reportedly subjected to severe torture during his interrogations, resulting in a broken nose, according to Hossam al-Din.
A year after his arrest, in May 2015, the prosecution dropped charges of arms possession and joining a banned organization, but upheld accusations of protesting without a permit, meaning the case was categorized as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Fayoum Criminal Court, headed by Atef Rizk, ordered his release in 2015, after Mostafa exceeded the maximum 6-month pretrial detention period for misdemeanors.
Security forces later arrested Mostafa’s colleague, according to Hossam al-Din, and detained him pending investigations into another case in Beni Suef.
After his release, Mostafa tried to resume life as normal, Hossam al-Din told Mada Masr, going back to his studies and passing his exams, before she lost touch with him and Mostafa disappeared.
National Security Agency forces arrested Mostafa’s brother last year. Upon his release, he travelled to the UAE and his family changed their home address.
However, family members of the alleged suicide bomber spoke to various media outlets on Monday, refuting claims made by authorities. They asserted that Mostafa is not in Egypt, and has resided in Sudan for a long time.
In an interview with a talk show aired on Al-Mehwar channel, Mostafa’s sister explained that her brother traveled to Sudan two years ago, and that his last contact with the family was a month ago. She added that the photograph of the suicide bomber published in media outlets is not of her brother.
Additionally, there appear to be discrepancies concerning Mostafa’s age. An article published in the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper about Mostafa’s arrest in 2014 reports that he was 16 years old at the time. However, in his funeral remarks, Sisi stated that Mostafa was 22 years old at the time of the bombing.
There have been discussions in Egyptian media as to the ways in which young detainees are potentially recruited by extremist groups. A report published by the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper asserted that Egyptian prisons have become notorious for “the growth of Islamic State and extremist ideas,” alleging that a number of Islamic State affiliates “were actively working to attract younger prisoners and had succeeded in gaining the support of some of them.”
Sisi’s announcement regarding the bomber’s alleged identity surprised many people, who speculated as to how this had been verified so quickly.
Several social media users drew parallels between Monday’s claims and the state’s release of names in the brutal murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni, when five men cited as belonging to an armed gang were named responsible, after they were shot dead by Egyptian security forces, which Italian investigators have since refuted.