USAID officer killed in suicide bombing

August 10, 2012

A U.S. government aid worker with ties to the Washington area was killed in a suicide bombing Wednesday in Afghanistan, the State Department said.

Ragaei Abdelfattah — a former master planner for Prince George’s County who had come from Egypt and fallen in love with the United States — was killed in the eastern Konar province. Three coalition service members and an Afghan civilian were also killed in the attack, and a State Department diplomat was injured.

Abdelfattah, 43, was on his second voluntary tour as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, a job that took him to eastern Afghanistan to partner with local officials to establish schools and health clinics and to deliver electricity.

“He felt like he was doing rewarding development work,” Abdelfattah’s wife, Angela Ruppe, said in an interview. “He spoke to me many times about the relationships he was building. It was fulfilling.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack in a statement and praised Abdelfattah’s work as “an example of the highest standards of service.”

Abdelfattah was born in Giza and grew up in Cairo, where he studied architecture at Ain Shams University. He worked in urban planning and ecotourism development in Egypt and led a project for the U.N. Development Program before arriving in America shortly before Sept. 11, 2001.

“He loved the bigness of it,” said Ted Koebel, an urban affairs and planning professor at Virginia Tech, where Abdelfattah spent part of the past decade pursuing a PhD.

“I remember him saying he had a sense that the United States was the center of the world and that’s what he wanted to be a part of,” Koebel said.

He toured the Mall, visited Disneyland with his two sons — now teenagers, according to a statement from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah — and otherwise embraced Americana and America, becoming a naturalized citizen several years ago.

“We had trips around the state where Ragaei would just want to stop at somebody’s roadside pie restaurant outside of Harrisonburg [Va.] or on [Route] 460, coming back through the peanut farm area,” Koebel said. “He just loved everything about the United States.”

That included bad chain restaurants and classic suburbia, his wife said. “I used to joke with him that he was even more American than I was.”

Abdelfattah never completed his PhD at Virginia Tech. (“Expected in 2013/4,” his résumésays.) Instead, he moved to the Washington area and went to work in Prince George’s to provide for his family.

He spent five years with the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. He became a supervisor and was regarded as a rising star.

County Planning Director Fern Piret on Thursday lamented “the loss of someone with so much potential.”

Ivy Lewis, a division chief with the planning commission, recalled Abdelfattah as “very smart, very passionate about community development, very knowledgeable.”

There was also this, she said: “He was the co-worker who would take other co-workers out to lunch just to stay in touch and get to know them better. He was really a people person who took time to get to know his co-workers.”

He even met his second wife at the commission, after his first marriage ended in divorce. Colleagues thought Abdelfattah and Ruppe were just carpooling partners, driving in together from Annapolis.

Then one day in 2009, they announced to the office that they had married. He had proposed by calling her into his office, showing her three dates on his Outlook calendar and telling her to pick one for their wedding.

Abdelfattah, who had worked as a contractor with USAID officials in Egypt, began to talk seriously about working with the agency again. He liked the international development mission, Ruppe said. He put in for a job and was offered Afghanistan. “It’s pretty much where you have to go before you move on to other assignments,” Ruppe said.

They both had safety concerns — “of course we did,” she said — but she left the decision to her husband. And he decided to go and then to go again.

From afar, he followed all the news at his old office, sending emails to congratulate former colleagues on their new appointments. He told people here that he was planning to take the American Institute of Certified Planners exam in November. He had just taken a two-week vacation with Ruppe and told friends how “romantic and wonderful” it was. He sent travel photos and birthday greetings and gifts.

And in December, when a Virginia Tech police officer was fatally shot on campus, he e-mailed his old professor and friend.

“He said, ‘Be safe,’ ” Koebel recalled. “I said, ‘Geez, Ragaei, back atcha.’ He was obviously working in a dangerous part of the world. You obviously knew something bad could happen. You just hoped it never did.”

Julie Tate and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.
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