CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Interior Minister on Thursday tried to downplay the backgrounds of three men suspected of fatally stabbing a university student sitting with his fiance, saying they are not affiliated with Islamist parties or ideology.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told reporters in Cairo that the men are simply "religious," stopping short of calling them ultraconservatives or extremists.
However, photographs of the suspects show that one of the men has the mustache-less beard of ultraconservative Salafi Muslims, who follow a strict interpretation of Islam.
Since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak from power last year in a popular uprising, the Salafi Nour Party has emerged as a powerful political player, winning a quarter of the seats in parliament before the legislature was dissolved last month.
The June 25 attack has alarmed Egyptians concerned that the rise of Islamists may be emboldening vigilantes trying to enforce strict religious mores in the streets, including separation of the sexes.
Ibrahim said that police detained and questioned the three men, who range in age from 26 to 32 years old, on Thursday. He said they admitted attacking 20-year-old Ahmed Hussein Eid during a scuffle over how he was sitting with his fiance in a quiet park in the Red Sea city of Suez.
Separately, a former Salafi lawmaker who police say was caught "violating public decency" while with a woman in a car will face trial Sunday, according to state prosecutors.
Ali Wanees, who is also a religious cleric, has been charged with failing to show up for interrogation and giving a false statement to police about the nature of his relationship with the woman.
Wanees had said that the woman was his niece, but police say she is not.
The allegation is especially embarrassing for Salafis, who advocate a strict interpretation of Islam and the segregation of unrelated men and women.