Egypt: Major Hezbollah attack in Sinai thwarted
Egypt is holding 49 nationals of various Arab countries on suspicion of being members of a terrorist network on behalf of Hezbollah. The accused have allegedly planned to carry out attacks inside Egypt, including tourist sites frequented by Israelis.
On Tuesday, the Egyptian authorities announced that an underground organization had been uncovered; yesterday they remanded the suspects in custody for a further 15 days. Legal sources in Egypt said the group had received orders to operate in a televised address by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
Most of those arrested are Egyptians; however, among them are Palestinians, Sudanese, Syrians and at least one Lebanese national. The suspects were allegedly trained abroad to use explosives and entered Egypt with forged documents.
According to the Egyptian authorities, the accused were ordered to rent homes overlooking the Suez Canal, as well as tourist sites in Sinai.
One of the key suspects is Sami Shihab, a Lebanese national whom the daily Al-Hayat says had smuggled arms into the Gaza Strip with two Palestinians. The paper says they received arms with the help of the Sudanese and passed them on to Gaza via Bedouin in Sinai.
The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, considered a mouthpiece of the regime, reported that among the arrested are two employees of an Iranian television station that has offices in Cairo.
If the initial conclusions of the Egyptian investigation are correct, the ring had planned its operations in the country's periphery: the border with Sudan, the canal area, Sinai and along the border with the Gaza Strip. The group was aiming to embarrass the Egyptian security forces and make them think local opposition forces were behind the attacks.
According to the reports, the first attacks were to be carried out following a "code" that Nasrallah would issue on a day in December, which happened to coincide with Operation Cast Lead.
During his speech, Nasrallah called on Egyptian army officers and the public to demonstrate against the regime. The next day the operatives were supposed to carry out the attacks, but they had already been arrested.
"Hezbollah did not know about the arrests," and Egyptian security source was quoted as saying in Al-Ahram.
In an address this evening, Nasrallah is expected to respond to the charges being leveled at him and Hezbollah by Egypt.
"Nasrallah will put things right," read a statement yesterday on Hezbollah's television station, Al-Manar.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday when the news broke in Egypt, Egyptian attorney Muntaser al-Ziyat appeared on Al-Jazeera television and said he had been hired to represent the suspects. He had not been allowed to meet his clients, he added.
Palestinian security sources told Haaretz that Hezbollah operatives had been active in Egypt for some time. They said Hezbollah had tried to recruit a senior Fatah figure in the West Bank, and representatives of the Shi'ite group met him in Cairo.
"Hezbollah continues to operate on behalf of Iran, recruiting agents and activists everywhere possible in the Arab states. The Shi'ite group is helping Hamas in every way possible and is trying to undermine the stability of Sunni regimes in Egypt and Jordan," the source said.