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Militant in Sadat plot freed

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CAIRO, Egypt — An Islamic militant group leader who helped plot the assassination of President Anwar Sadat but later expressed regret for the Egyptian leader's killing has been released from prison after nearly 22 years, officials said Sunday.

Karam Zohdy, 51, one of the leaders of Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Group, was serving a life sentence for being among those who ordered Sadat's assassination in October, 1981. Zohdy was released Thursday and returned to his hometown of Minya, 140 miles south of Cairo, police officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a July interview with the London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Zohdy called Sadat a martyr and said he believed the assassination was wrong. He said if he could turn back time, "I would interfere to prevent it." Zohdy and the group have also renounced violence entirely.

Interior Minister Habib el-Adly decided to release Zohdy in part because he is suffering from heart problems and diabetes, Egypt's official Middle East News Agency reported.

Also, according to Egyptian law, a life sentence normally means 25 years behind bars. The prison year is calculated as nine months, meaning that Zohdy was more than four years overdue for a release.

Radicals had condemned Sadat for standing in the way an Islamic state and for being the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979.

Under Sadat, the government sought the support of Islamic groups to counter the influence of leftists. It released hundreds of jailed Muslim Brotherhood members and backed the nascent al-Gamaa. But the Brotherhood turned against Sadat and al-Gamaa grew so radical it joined forces with another militant group, Islamic Jihad, to assassinate the president.

Zohdy's release comes days before the 22nd anniversary of Sadat's assassination.

Dia'a Rashwan, a Cairo-based expert on militant groups, said Zohdy's release was timed with the governing National Democratic Party's annual convention "to give a general impression of political openness in the country."