Egyptian police arrest foreigners for allegedly plotting attacks

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Egyptian police have arrested an American, 11 Europeans and several others from Arab countries for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in Middle Eastern countries including Iraq, the Interior Ministry said yesterday.

The group allegedly was part of an Islamic militant terror cell that had adopted extremist ideas and were living in Egypt under the disguise of studying Arabic and Islamic studies, the ministry said in a written statement.

Along with the American, police arrested two Belgians, nine French and several others from Egypt and other Arab countries including Tunisia and Syria, the statement said. The ministry 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."

The US Embassy in Cairo declined to comment about the arrests.

In Brussels, a government official confirmed that the men were Belgian citizens of Moroccan origin. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

"It seems they had sympathies with fundamentalist, Islamist circles," the official said. "There is no evidence that they perpetrated any violent act, and we expect them to be expelled from Egypt soon."

A spokesman for France's Foreign Ministry also confirmed that several French citizens had been arrested in Egypt but said he could not immediately provide further details.

They were arrested 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 condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. It was not immediately clear if all the arrests took place in Cairo or elsewhere in Egypt.

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

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

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

The three belonged to the militant group "Tawhid and Jihad," which Egyptian security officials and prosecutors accuse of carrying out two other bombings against Sinai resorts that killed another 87 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 for allegedly belonging to a banned Islamic group. The three accused Egyptian authorities of torturing them during their captivity, but the government denied the allegations.

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 a growing chorus of opposition from both inside and outside the country.

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