CIA `foil London terror mission'

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The Independent Online
A SUSPECTED leading member of an Islamic terrorist group, believed to be behind the massacre of foreign tourists at Luxor in Egypt, in which six Britons died, is being held in Uruguay.

According to reports in Uruguay, confirmed in London last night, three people were arrested at the border town of Chui on Friday as they were attempting to cross into Brazil, as the first stage of an alleged terror mission to London. The local police are believed to have been acting on a CIA tip-off.

The three were named as Hisham al-Tarabili Aka Bilal and his wife, Sahar Muhammad, an Egyptian couple travelling with their three children, and Mahammad Abu al-Nez, a Brazilian of Jordanian origin, who was assisting them with formalities at the border. The Egyptian family members were said to be carrying fake Brazilian passports originating in Paraguay. An international search is under way for two other men travelling with them who escaped.

Uruguayan press reports said the arrests followed a CIA tip off to the Montevideo authorities that members of the Egyptian militant group Al Gamaat al Islamiyyah were travelling to London via Brazil.

Uruguayan police are said to have been congratulated by the American intelligence agency for foiling what is being called a "London Mission."

The woman and the Jordanian were released on Sunday, the Uruguayan newspaper El Pais said. But Mr Aka Bilal, who has requested an Egyptian lawyer, was still being questioned, for a third consecutive day. Reputed to be an associate of the alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, he is suspected of being a prime mover behind the Luxor massacre in November 1997.

He is also said to be wanted by the US in connection with the World Trade Center bombing in New York and the attacks last August on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. According to the Uruguayan reports, both countries are seeking Mr Aka Bilal's extradition - although in the case of Egypt, no extradition treaty exists with Uruguay.

Mr bin Laden is the number one global target of US intelligence. He is accused of a series of terrorist attacks in the last few years, including the 1996 truck bombing which killed 19 American soldiers in their barracks in Saudi Arabia in November 1996, and last summer's bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, in which 256 people died.

There was no word of what the group intended to do in London. But many Arab experts here are dubious it planned any major outrage. In contrast to France, Britain is regarded as a relatively safe haven for political opposition from the Arab world. For this reason, the experts argue, terrorists would be unwilling to do anything here which might provoke a crackdown.