- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

CAIRO — Police have arrested an American, 11 Europeans and several others from Arab countries on accusations that they were plotting terrorist attacks in Middle Eastern countries including Iraq, the Interior Ministry said yesterday.

The accused are part of an Islamic militant terror cell that had adopted extremist ideas and were living in Egypt under the guise of studying Arabic and Islamic studies, the ministry said.

Along with the American, police arrested two Belgians, nine Frenchmen and several from Egypt and other Arab countries, including Tunisia and Syria, the ministry said.

It did not provide names or say how many Egyptians and Arabs were arrested.

“Investigations have confirmed that those elements are related to some terrorist organizations abroad,” the ministry said. “They were seeking to recruit others, teach them destructive beliefs, urging them for jihad, traveling to Iraq to carry out operations via other countries in the region.”

In Washington, the State Department confirmed that an American had been arrested in Egypt about a week ago but could not provide any details. Spokesman Sean McCormack said American officials were “seeking consular access to this individual” but declined to give more information, citing U.S. privacy laws.

Egyptian authorities made the arrests about a week ago, and some had been studying at Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s most important seat of learning, police officials said. They spoke on the condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. It was not clear whether all the arrests took place in Cairo.

All of the arrested were in jail pending further investigation, the ministry said.

Officials in Brussels said two Belgians also were arrested in Medina, Saudi Arabia, on Nov. 10 in connection with the raids in Egypt, Agence France-Presse reported.

Egypt has witnessed a string of suicide terror attacks in recent years at Sinai Peninsula tourist resorts.

Last week, an Egyptian state security court sentenced to death three Islamist militants convicted of taking part in suicide attacks that killed 34 persons in 2004 in the Sinai resort of town of Taba.

The three belonged to the militant group Tawhid and Jihad, which Egyptian security officials and prosecutors have accuses of carrying out two other bombings against Sinai resorts that killed more than 100 people — Sharm el Sheik in July 2005 and Dahab in April.

In February, three British Muslims were released from an Egyptian prison after spending nearly three years in custody on accusations that they belonged to a banned Islamic group. The three accused Egyptian authorities of torturing them during their captivity, but the government denied the claims.

Egypt operates under emergency laws, which gives the government wide powers to detain suspects without charging them. The laws have been in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 despite growing opposition from both inside and outside the country.

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