Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said today that a Cairo-based Libyan opposition figure reported by Libya to have been "executed" by an assassination squad Monday was "alive and well" and that Egyptian security had tricked Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi into believing he was dead.
Mubarak, speaking at a meeting in a Nile Delta village, said the assassins sent to kill Abdul Hamid Bakoush, a former Libyan prime minister, had all been arrested beforehand and forced to send "fake pictures showing him to be critically injured and lying in a pool of blood" to the Libyan Embassy in Malta.
"It was surprising and strange that Libyan officials scrambled to inform Qaddafi of the news of Bakoush's assassination," Mubarak said, clearly pleased with the success of Egypt's cloak-and-dagger antiterrorist operation against Libya, a longtime adversary.
Later at a press conference, Egyptian Interior Minister Ahmed Rushdi triumphantly presented the intended victim, saying, "Abdul Hamid Bakoush is alive. He did not die as Qaddafi said."
Rushdi said four persons -- two British and two Maltese -- had been arrested in the assassination attempt.
Mubarak did not disclose all the details of how Egyptian security had foiled the plot. But he said enough to indicate Egypt feels it has scored a major coup and adroitly turned the tables on Qaddafi, who arrived under heavy security today in Malta on a state visit.
Mubarak also charged that "other terrorist plans" were being laid to kill West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and to overthrow the government of Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan and install the son of the late opposition leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Rushdi said his press conference had been postponed for several hours to allow authorities in other countries time to act on the information gained in the interrogation of the would-be assassins about other Libyan "terrorists" operating abroad.
An official in Bonn, asked about West German reaction to Mubarak's charge of a terrorist plot against Kohl, noted that Libya has been keenly interested lately in improving relations with West Germany, and he suggested that Mubarak's public allegation might be an effort to undercut relations between Bonn and Qaddafi, Washington Post correspondent William Drozdiak reported.
Qaddafi and his efforts to improve his foreign relations recently have provoked other international disputes.
He met Thursday on the Greek island of Crete with French President Francois Mitterrand, who is facing growing criticism at home and signs of considerable irritation from Washington for his dealings with Libya.
A U.S. official in Washington said this week that Secretary of State George P. Shultz has declined an invitation to attend a dinner given by visiting French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson in Washington on Monday, and the official suggested that irritation over Mitterrand's meeting with Qaddafi was the principal cause of the decision not to attend.
At the same time, the State Department's decision to publicize intelligence information about Libyan forces remaining in Chad despite French and Libyan statements declaring full withdrawal reportedly has caused strains between Paris and Washington.
Qaddafi is also in the middle of an effort to unify his government and that of King Hassan II of Morocco, who long has been friendly with the United States.
Mubarak, in remarks quoted by the semiofficial Middle East News Agency, said today that he had first heard about the Libyan plot to assassinate Bakoush during a visit in late October to Bonn, but it was unclear whether he learned of it through West German sources or his own intelligence agencies.
According to Mubarak's account, Bakoush was then spirited away to the safety of the Upper Egypt resort town of Aswan. This explained his strange disappearance from his home in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis Monday only hours before the time of his alleged assassination as reported by the official Libyan news agency, Jana, on Friday afternoon.
"We were able to arrest the group that planned to assassinate Bakoush, who was in Aswan while preparations were under way for this operation," Mubarak said at a meeting in Benha, 20 miles north of Cairo.
"We gave fake pictures showing him to be critically injured and in a pool of blood, and these pictures were sent to the Libyan leadership by those terrorists through the Libyan embassy in Malta," he said.
Rushdi said later that the fake pictures and other confirmation of what appeared to be a successful assassination were taken by Ali Nagem, the Libyan People's Bureau chief -- equivalent to ambassador -- in Malta, to Qaddafi while he was meeting with Mitterrand on Crete.
Qaddafi, according to Rushdi, then ordered the Libyan news agency to announce the supposed assassination and ordered payment of $250,000 to the supposed assassins.
Rushdi said the entire operation had been under the control of Nagem. He identified those arrested as Godfrey Philip Chiner, 47, and Anthony William Gill, 48, both British citizens, and Romeo Nicholas Chakamberi, 42, and Edgar Cachia, 40, both citizens of Malta.
Bakoush, 46, has been living in exile here since 1977. He had escaped from Libya after being imprisoned by Qaddafi. Bakoush was prime minister from 1967-68 under King Idris, who was overthrown by Qaddafi in 1969.
The Libyan news agency, in announcing Friday that the former Libyan prime minister had been "executed" by a Libyan "suicide squad," said the "execution" had been carried out Monday at 3 p.m. but did not say where.
The unusual precision about the date and time, together with the fact that Bakoush had reportedly not been seen since Monday, lent credence to the Libyan claim, as did the comments of his brother-in-law, Khalid Mansour, that he had left home without a suitcase or any plans to travel abroad.
It is not clear whether Mansour and his secretary, who also said he knew nothing about Bakoush's whereabouts after 11 a.m. Monday, were in on the Egyptian plan and deliberately misled reporters.
Why Qaddafi would try to assassinate Bakoush, leader of one of the smallest Libyan opposition groups, also remains a mystery. But western analysts here say they presume that the operation was aimed as much at embarrassing the Egyptian government and demonstrating the ability of Libya's suicide squads to strike even in the heart of Cairo as it was to get rid of Bakoush.
Bakoush heads the Organization for the Liberation of Libya, which was set up here in 1982. It is one of half a dozen Libyan opposition groups and not one of the better known or more active ones.
The Libyan news agency said Bakoush had been "executed" because he had "sold his conscience to the enemies of the Arab nations and Libyan people," an apparent reference to Egypt and the United States.
Relations between Egypt and Libya have deteriorated steadily over the past few months as Qaddafi has stepped up subversive activities against the Mubarak government.
Egyptian leaders have accused Libya of placing the Red Sea mines in August that damaged 19 ships and prompted the United States, Italy, France, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union to send a flotilla of mine-sweeping ships to clear the vital waterway in September.
Mubarak also has charged that Qaddafi had plans to blow up a ship in the Suez Canal to block international shipping and to bomb the Aswan High Dam, both actions apparently aimed at damaging the Egyptian economy.
"We have good relations with all Arab countries," he said today, "except one."