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Egypt court adjourns trial of 'US spies' to April

A trial which has shaken Egypt's 30-year alliance with the US began yesterday when a court was told 16 American workers with non-governmental organsiations were CIA spies.

Forty-three foreign and Egyptian workers from NGOs – including the son of the US Transport Secretary – are accused of receiving illegal funds from abroad, carrying out political activities unrelated to their civil society work, and failing to obtain the necessary operating licences.

The case has underscored tension between the US and the generals who took power when President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Washington has said annual military aid to Egypt, worth $1.3bn, is under threat.

A prosecution lawyer, Khaled Suleiman, told the court: "These organisations are accused of espionage and going against the law. Most of them are in contact with the CIA. These organisations gathered information and reports on Egypt and sent them to the US State Department."

Judge Mahmud Mohamed Shukry said the trial would resume on 26 April and the defendants could stay out of jail until the next hearing.

None of the US defendants were present. Some are seeking refuge in their embassy in Cairo. One defendant interviewed by The Independent denied that funding was used for espionage. Nancy Okail said her group, Freedom House, had spent money only on rent, salaries and equipment.