By Samer al-Atrush, Agence France-Presse
CAIRO (AFP) — Egyptian security forces have arrested 26 suspected Al-Qaeda loyalists on charges of plotting attacks on foreign ships passing through the Suez Canal, the interior ministry said today.
The suspects, 25 Egyptians and a Palestinian, were in contact with the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Army of Palestine, the ministry said in a statement.
It alleged that they had prepared remote controlled detonators and explosives fabricated from armaments left over in the Sinai desert from Egypt’s wars with Israel.
The cell was awaiting instructions from abroad from an Al-Qaeda operative, the statement said.
It also charged that the cell carried out a deadly armed robbery of a Coptic Christian-owned jewelry shop in Cairo in May 2008 in which the owner and four workers were killed. The gun used in the attack had also been found.
Five suspects “gave detailed confessions on carrying out (the attack)… to fund their activities,” it said.
In May, the interior ministry said it had arrested seven members of another alleged Al-Qaeda-affiliated cell over a bombing in Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili bazaar that killed a teenage French tourist.
The suspects included an alleged French ringleader of Albanian origin, a dual British and Egyptian national and a Belgian man of Tunisian descent.
Dozens of students from Russian Muslim republics were deported after the bombing.
Egypt expelled 20 French men earlier this month after they were arrested on suspicion of having had contact with the cell that carried out the Khan el-Khalili bombing.
That cell called itself the Army of Islam of Palestine, according to the interior ministry, and was led by two Egyptians living abroad, one of them reportedly in the Gaza Strip.
In April, the Egyptian public prosecutor said that 49 people had been charged with forming a Hezbollah cell suspected of planning attacks on tourist resorts and ships passing through the Suez Canal.
Twenty-five of these were under arrest and the others remained at large.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shiite militant group, said one of those arrested was a Hezbollah agent but insisted he had been involved in smuggling weapons to Gaza rather than plotting attacks inside Egypt itself.
Egypt was hit by a spate of bombings in Sinai tourist resorts between 2004 and 2006, which killed dozens of foreign tourists and Egyptians.
The government responded with a severe crackdown against Bedouin living in the Sinai, with thousands arrested. Human rights groups said at the time police arrested suspects without warrants and tortured some of them in detention.