Al-Ahram Weekly Online   16 - 22 July 2009
Issue No. 956
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Caught the cell

A cell affiliated to Al-Qaeda has been arrested after being accused of planning to carry out terrorist acts in Egypt, reports Shaden Shehab

Twenty-six people were arrested on charges of plotting attacks on foreign ships passing through the Suez Canal and oil pipelines, the Interior Ministry said in a statement last week. The group, which is believed to have links to Al-Qaeda, was also charged with carrying out a deadly armed robbery of a Coptic Christian-owned jewellery shop in Zeitoun on 28 May 2008 in which the owner and four workers were killed. The suspects confessed to the attack which they said was launched to finance their activities.

The Interior Ministry said the cell was made up of 25 Egyptians, mostly engineers and technicians. Its leader, Tamer Mohamed Moussa, is Palestinian.

They also had contacts with activists in the Gaza Strip.

It alleged that they had prepared remote controlled detonators and explosives to be placed in shipping lanes in the busy Suez Canal. The cell was awaiting instructions from abroad from an Al-Qaeda operative, the statement said. Moreover, one of the suspects in the case announced they had intended to cross into the Gaza Strip to meet up with the Palestinian Islamic Army, loyalists to Al-Qaeda, to receive instructions on attacking vital targets in Egypt, the ministry said.

The authorities also confiscated explosives, diving suits, electronics and a handgun linked to the attack of the Zeitoun jewellery shop.

According to confessions the ministry said the group made, the detainees killed the owner and his four assistants during the planned robbery. However, they took nothing in the end after the victims fought back and feared getting caught.

Islamist lawyer Montasser El-Zayat said the case was a "fabrication" to cover the failure of the interior minister in arresting the real perpetrators in terrorist-related cases. The families of the suspects also said that the whole case was unfounded.

In April security sources announced the arrest of 49 alleged members of Hizbullah, accusing them of planning "hostile operations on Egyptian soil" and suspected of planning attacks on tourist resorts and ships passing through the Suez Canal.

Twenty-five were arrested and the others remain at large. Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said at the time that one of those arrested was a Hizbullah agent but insisted he had been involved in weapons smuggling to Gaza and was not plotting attacks inside Egypt itself.

In May, the Interior Ministry said it had arrested seven members of another alleged Al-Qaeda-affiliated cell for a bombing in 22 February at Cairo's Khan Al-Khalili bazaar that killed one French teenager and left 24 others wounded. The suspects included an alleged French ringleader of Albanian origin, a dual British and Egyptian national and a Belgian male of Tunisian descent.

There are unconfirmed reports that Egypt expelled 20 Frenchmen earlier this month after they were arrested on suspicion of having had contact with the cell that carried out the Khan Al-Khalili bombing.

Diaa Rashwan, an expert in Islamic militant groups, expressed scepticism, telling the media there were many questions surrounding the Interior Ministry's allegations, and that similar cases had never gone to court. "Here is a catalogue of accusations, targets and ties to different groups that don't fit together," Rashwan said.

During a speech he delivered at the graduation ceremony of police and attended by President Hosni Mubarak, Interior Minister Habib El-Adli said the banned Muslim Brotherhood was involved in many crimes including money laundering.

Adli's comments came after the arrest of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, secretary-general of the Doctors' Syndicate and a senior member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood's Executive Guidance Bureau who was arrested 28 June along with seven other prominent figures.

Abul-Fotouh and his accomplices could face charges of conspiring with foreign organisations, including the Lebanese-based Shia Party of Hizbullah. Abul-Fotouh reportedly led a cell instructed by Hizbullah to stage street demonstrations in Egypt and other Arab countries and recruit jihadist cells to go to Gaza to receive paramilitary training by Hamas.

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