Furor expected as death penalty is sought for son of Egyptian hero

A requested death sentence for the son of Egypt's enormously popular first president is likely to launch heated debate and could provoke antigovernment demonstrations, observers here say. ``This will raise a lot of internal controversy,'' says Tahsin Bashir, an adviser to the Foreign Ministry and a keen observer of the Egyptian scene.

Khaled Abdel Nasser, the eldest son of Gamal Abdel Nasser, was indicted Thursday on charges of murder in the case of ``Egypt's Revolution,'' an underground group that assassinated two Israeli diplomats and wounded two United States Embassy employees last May.

The indictments Thursday are seen as an unusually courageous step by President Hosni Mubarak's government given the stature of President Nasser and the current unpopularity of Israel. Among the 20 group members indicted were a nephew of the late president, two Army officers, and an Air Force officer.

Western diplomats here had speculated last year that the case would never go to trial because of its sensitivity.

Not only is Nasser still revered here and the Israelis highly unpopular, says Mr. Bashir, but ``it was my impression that Khaled Abdel Nasser was really marginal'' to the group.

Mr. Nasser, whom the prosecutor accused of handling the group's finances and inciting the members to murder, left Egypt last fall before police had a chance to interrogate him. Telephone calls made Thursday to members of his family were not returned, but well-informed sources say that he is currently in Yugoslavia with his wife and children.

Egypt's Revolution is known to have been operating since 1984 and carried out one operation each year, beginning with an attack on an Israeli security man in Cairo. In 1985, it assassinated an Israeli administrative attach'e, and in 1986, a woman working at Israel's Embassy in Cairo. Each time, a communiqu'e said the group was trying to undo Egypt's peace with Israel.

In May 1987, the group fired at a car carrying US diplomats to work, inflicting light injuries from shattered glass. The communiqu'e issued afterward claimed the group had links to the armed forces and planned a popular revolution.

According to reliable sources, the case was broken when a brother of one of the group's leaders went to US diplomats and informed.

Last fall, officials in the Interior Ministry said that Nasser was involved, but all they knew was that members of Egypt's Revolution would contact him after every operation. The indictment handed down yesterday, however, accuses Nasser of being one of the group's two leaders.

Diplomats had believed that moving against Egypt's Revolution would be seen as tantamount to supporting Israel. The peace treaty with Israel is unpopular here, the group's claims that it targets the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, and the CIA can evoke public sympathy.

In its communiqu'es, Egypt's Revolution claims to be patriotic, ridding Egypt of its oppressors - the Americans and Israelis.

The prosecutor, Mohammed El Guindi, asked for the death penalty for 11 of the group's members, including Nasser, and lighter sentences for nine others. However, the police are holding only nine of those charged. In a news conference, Mr. El Guindi said that Nasser would be tried in absentia if necessary.

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