CAIRO // As Egyptians commemorated the 28th anniversary of President Anwar Sadat's assassination last week, some seized on the date to call for the release of the last two men still in prison for conspiring to kill him. Aboud el Zommor and his cousin and brother-in-law Tarek el Zommor finished their sentences on October 13, 2001, but have still not been allowed to walk free. Five Islamic militants were executed for gunning down Sadat on October 6, 1981 during a military parade celebrating the 1973 October War against Israel. More than 150 people from both Al Jihad and Al Gamaa al-Islamiya received prison sentences but the el Zommors are the only ones not to have been released.
The cousins were sentenced to life imprisonment, which means 20 years in prison and five years under supervision, according to Nizar Ghorab, their lawyer since 1992. Abboud el Zommor, 62, was the architect of the assassination. He was a lieutenant colonel for Egyptian army intelligence at the time but was also the military leader of the Al Jihad organisation. The role put him in charge of training the group's members to use weapons to kill Sadat. He was arrested on October 13, 1981 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
His cousin, Tarek, 50, was also sentenced to life imprisonment for belonging to an armed illegal group which attempted to overthrow the regime by force, and seven years for resisting authorities while being arrested. Unlike many other sentenced militants from Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, both men, while agreeing to no longer resort to violence, refused to give up their political beliefs. In documents obtained by The National through their lawyer, Mr Ghorab, they say the difference between them and the regime cannot be bridged, and that "there is a third path between surrender and violence".
"The case of Abboud and Tarek el-Zommor is unprecedented in the history of Egyptian prisons," said Mr Ghorab, who is still fighting in courts to release both men. He claimed that the cousins are the only Egyptians ever to be held after their sentences ended. Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the opposition daily newspaper el Dostour, used last Wednesday to call for the cousins' release - the day after Egyptians celebrated the 36th anniversary of the October War.
"Release President Sadat's killers immediately," he wrote. "Twenty-eight years after Sadat's assassination, the question is are we concerned about justice or still busy involved with revenge?." Eissa added that Aboud and Tarek finished their sentence in 2001, "so why are they still in prison eight years later?". "Why should the Egyptian state continue to punish these two men, who committed a crime and finished their sentence," he asked.
Ahmed Seif El-Islam, a lawyer and founding member of the Hesham Mubarak Law Center, a local watchdog, said: "All prisoners, regardless of their charges, when they finish their sentences, they have to be released, keeping them in prison is illegal." For Sadat's family, the debate over whether the men should be released brings back painful memories. "Personally, I would never forgive those who killed my father, I just can't," said Roqia el Sadat, 68, President Sadat's eldest daughter in an interview .
"Repentant or not, nothing will bring back my father to life and to me." Ms el Sadat added that while she did not want to interfere with the state's decision, she did not think the pair should be released. In an interview with Orbit, the Saudi-owned satellite channel, Jihan Sadat, one of Mr Sadat's widows, aged 76, said: "If God forgives people, how I won't forgive. They admitted that killing Sadat was wrong."
Other sections of the media have disputed that the two men deserve mercy and to be released, even after serving their sentences. Last week, Al-Youm 7, a weekly newspaper, introduced a two-page article about Sadat's murder called "The Assassins" by saying: "They didn't have mercy on Egypt when they, obsessed with betrayal and black ideas, murdered President Sadat and along with him, killed the joy in the hearts of all Egyptians who were celebrating the victory, transforming that day into a mourning day.
"We can never forgive them, we can't forgive murderers," the paper added. Twenty-four members of Al Jihad and Al Gamaa al-Islamiya stood trial in a military court for the assassination. The four men who carried out the shooting were executed along with Abdel el Salam Farag, the leader of Al Jihad, and author of The Neglected (Jihad) Duty, seen as a manifesto of both militant groups. He considered Sadat to be an infidel who should be killed, especially after signing the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Their execution took place in April 1982 after it was ratified by President Hosni Mubarak, who replaced Sadat. Most of those who received prison sentences, mainly members from al Gamaa al Islamiya, have been released after finishing their life sentences especially after they published books renouncing violence and expressing regret for Sadat's killing. Nageh Ibrahim, 54, one of the leaders of al Gamaa al Islamiya who was released in 2004, was one of the main conspirators behind Mr Sadat's killing.
"It's a positive call especially coming from people who have nothing to do with Islamic groups," he said about the demand for the men's release. "Both men finished their sentences, and especially Aboud is an old and sick man, he should be released even out of mercy," he added. A statement posted on the al-Gamaa al Islamiya website last week said: "Our brothers in prison, we will never forget you.
"We remember you, value your stances and feel the harshness of depriving your families, wives, sons and us from having you among us, but we will never lose hope of you leaving your bars and being released soon." email@example.com