Hours before leaving his northern Egyptian hometown for the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, the man accused of stabbing two German tourists to death ate a simple lunch with his mother and asked her to pray for him.
Security sources say Abdel Rahman Shaban Abokorah, a 28-year-old plumber killed two German women and wounded four other tourists last Friday at the Zahabia hotel and neighbouring Sunny Days Palacio resort, where he was caught by staff and arrested.
The motive for the attack is still unknown and investigators have remained tight-lipped.
Abokorah’s family in Kafr al-Sheikh, a small rice-producing town close to the coast, confirmed his arrest and said security forces had interrogated them on Friday, arresting his disabled father and his younger brother who remain in custody.
“I am breaking down… My son has nothing to do with these things,” Abokorah’s mother, Adia al-Sharkawi, said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“We had lunch together (on Thursday) … He read the Koran and went to the mosque to pray,” said al-Sharkawi, dressed in a black dotted robe and a black head-scarf, standing in front of her four-storey red-brick building.
“After praying, he came back, kissed my hand and forehead, and asked me to pray for him… but it seems that my prayers weren’t answered,” she told Reuters.
Abokorah’s friends, neighbours and relatives recalled a “respectful” man who minded his own business and showed no signs of radicalisation or ties to militant Islamists.
Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police have been killed battling Islamist insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula, just across the Red Sea from Hurghada. Though security forces are their main target, they have also attacked tourists and Egypt’s Christians.
The insurgency has gathered pace since mid-2013 when the military ousted Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood as Egypt’s president after mass protests against his rule. Mursi remains in jail.
Abokorah’s attack comes as the number of tourists visiting Egypt climbs back towards levels last seen before the recent period of political turmoil, helped by investments in airport security and a cheaper local currency.
It is not known whether Abokorah had contact with the militants in Sinai or elsewhere.
He has a Bachelor of Commerce from Al-Azhar University, Egypt’s most prominent Islamic education institution. After doing his military service, his younger sister Marwa said he had worked in Saudi Arabia for seven months as an accountant for a car company before being laid off.
After living again with his family for a short while, he headed off to Hurghada to work as a plumber. Nothing prepared his family for the arrival of the security forces at their home on Friday afternoon.
“They came in and took all his belongings, took photos of the place, took his books, documents, passport…” Marwa said.
One relative who lives next door said his arrest was all the more shocking because he was a gentle man apparently averse to violence.
“He would not even slaughter a chicken… When he saw me and his mother slaughtering the chickens, he would leave,” said the relative.