Egyptian authorities say they have uncovered an Israeli espionage network, reports Reem Leila
On 16 March Bashar Abu Zeid, a 34 year-old Jordanian national, was arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel. Initial reports claimed that the authorities were still searching for other members of the network which included two Israelis who fled the country before Abu Zeid was detained. The spy ring is thought to have been gathering information about Egypt's Armed Forces.
The suspect allegedly arrived in Egypt during the height of January's anti-regime demonstrations. Recent reports have suggested that Abu Zeid was sending information about recordings of phone calls between Egyptian and Israeli officials.
According to Israeli websites the espionage network's mission was to collect key strategic data and political information about the situation in Egypt during the 25 January Revolution. Requested information included details of the deployment of the Armed Forces in towns and cities across the country, information on prominent Egyptian government officials and on natural gas pipelines in Sinai.
The Higher State Security Prosecution has ordered Abu Zeid be detained for 15 days pending further investigations. In leaks to the press officials say the suspect arrived in Egypt posing as a businessman interested in investment opportunities.
Major General Sameh Seif El-Yazal, an expert in national security affairs, declined to comment on a case currently under investigation but did say Abu Zeid's detention illustrated that the national security agency was continuing to perform its duties despite the disruptions caused by the 25 January Revolution.
"National security officers doubled their efforts to fill the gaps caused by the absence of the police," insists Seif El-Yazal.
This is not the first time Egyptian authorities have uncovered a spy ring. Late last year Tareq Abdel-Razeq, an Egyptian national, was imprisoned for spying for Israel.
In March 2002 a State Security court sentenced Sherif El-Filali, a 35-year-old Egyptian engineer, to 15 years in jail with hard labour for spying for Israel. El-Filali was found guilty of trying to collect military information, as well as data on tourism and on agricultural development schemes. Prosecutors said he had been recruited in Spain and was initially unaware that he was collecting information for Mossad.
In June of the same year a State Security court convicted a 52-year-old unemployed man, Anwar Mohamed Tawfiq, of offering to spy for Israel. Tawfiq was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Egyptian security services had accused Tawfiq of forging documents suggesting he was a minister plenipotentiary. They said Tawfiq had contacted the Israeli consulate in Alexandria and offered to provide information. Tawfiq acknowledged he had sent a fax to the consulate. His lawyer attempted to argue that his client was mentally ill.
In 1997 an Egyptian court sentenced Azzam Azzam, an Arab-Israeli working in Egypt, to 15 years in prison with hard labour for acting as a liaison between Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, and an Egyptian spy. In one of the more lurid aspects of the case, Azzam, who worked at a joint Israeli-Egyptian textile firm, was found guilty of delivering women's underclothes soaked in invisible ink to his Egyptian colleague, Emad Ismail. Ismail, who handed himself in to the Egyptian authorities, nonetheless received a 25-year sentence with hard labour.