- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

CAIRO | Seven people suspected of ties to an al Qaeda-linked cell have been arrested in connection with the bombing of a Cairo bazaar in February that killed a French teen, the government said Saturday.

The seven were members of a previously unknown group calling itself the Palestinian Islamic Army and had received training across the Egyptian border in Gaza, an unidentified security official said in a statement issued by the Interior Ministry.

The group, led by two wanted Egyptians, plotted further attacks at other tourist sites and oil installations in Egypt and in France, the statement said.

One of the seven arrested confessed that the cell was behind the bombing in February at Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili bazaar, the statement said.

The blast went off in the main square of the sprawling market, which was packed with tourists and Egyptians - including more than 40 high school students from suburban Paris.

The government said the bomb was placed under a stone bench at a cafe where the French students were sitting in the square, next to one of Cairo’s most revered shrines, the Hussein Mosque. The blast killed a 17-year-old among the group of students.

Members of the cell would sneak into Gaza through tunnels beneath the border to receive training and instructions there on preparing explosives and booby traps, the statement said.

It said the group assembled weapons and explosives from munitions left over from wars with Israel recovered from the Sinai desert.

The statement said the group’s two Egyptians leaders are still outside the country. The group communicated through coded messages on the Internet, the statement said. It did not specify how the group was linked to al Qaeda.

“The leaders of this terrorist cell were able to recruit foreign members - some of them came to the country under the pretext of pursuing studies,” the statement quoted the official as saying.

One of the members, a Belgian citizen of Tunisian origin, told Egyptian authorities that he was instructed to travel to Belgium and meet up with people with links to al Qaeda to carry out an attack in France, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the February bombing, which was the first against tourists in Egypt in three years. Islamic extremists have in the past attacked tourists in an attempt to hurt Egypt’s biggest source of income.

Several experts on Islamic militancy in Egypt said the attack in February may have been carried out in anger over Egypt’s response to Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip against Hamas in December and January. During Israel’s onslaught, Egypt came under heavy criticism around the Arab world for what some saw as its failure to help the Palestinians in Gaza.

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