Mubarak guard held over plot

THE headline was dramatic enough. Egypt had secretly imprisoned 19 Muslim fundamentalists three months ago for plotting to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak. But you had to read the small print on the front page of the opposition left-wing weekly al-Arabi - which was confirmed by a senior Egyptian army officer yesterday - to understand its true significance. At least two of the 19, it said, were uniformed officers, one of them from Mr Mubarak's own presidential security guard.

Shades of a certain Lieutenant Khaled al-Islambouly - the man who shot dead President Anwar Sadat in 1981 - must have passed close to Mr Mubarak when the men were arrested. According to the officer who confirmed the report, but who would not allow his name to be printed, plainclothes police found on the defendants a detailed drawing of Mr Mubarak's house and those of his neighbours in a quiet residential street in Nasser City, just off the main road to Cairo airport. The President, al-Arabi said, was to have been killed in an assault with rocket-propelled grenades.

All 19 men have been formally accused of attempting to overthrow the government - a charge that carries the death penalty. They will appear before a military court, although it is unclear if this will be open to the press. The army is prepared to let journalists witness some trials but may baulk at allowing the public to see a senior and supposedly loyal security officer facing charges alongside white-robed fundamentalists, always supposing the man does not choose to dress himself in the same way.

So how far has the Gamaat Islamiya and its associated groups penetrated the security forces? It is unclear whether the second officer is a soldier or a policeman but some of the 19 men are said to have been involved in the conspiracy to kill Sadat. Since last year army courts have adopted the practice of charging defendants in secret; although eight men were charged with trying to kill an Egyptian army general on 18 July, it was only last Sunday that the charges against them were revealed.

The Egyptian army's military lawyers are already facing a busy week. On Thursday they are to open a case against members of the so-called Vanguards of Islam at the Haekstap barracks while a further 65 defendants from the same group - the largest number ever tried together although 17 of them are still at large - will have charges read against them at another hearing on Saturday. Of the 14 men so far condemned to death by the army's courts, every one has now been dispatched to the hangman.

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