Egypt has arrested 26 people suspected of links to al Qaeda accused of plotting to attack oil pipelines and foreign ships in the Suez Canal, the Interior Ministry said yesterday.
The detainees, 25 Egyptians and a Palestinian, subscribed to militant Islamist ideology and were in direct contact through the Internet with “terrorist elements and organisations abroad”, a ministry statement said.
Egypt is highly sensitive to any perceived security threats after being hit by sporadic bombings and other attacks in recent years usually targeting the vital tourist industry.
The last involved a bomb that killed a tourist in Cairo in February, Reuters reports.
The Suez Canal is also a major source of revenue for Egypt as well as a crucial international trade route.
“Interior Ministry security forces were able to monitor the activities of a terrorist cell,” the statement said, adding that they were arrested and the case sent to the prosecutor.
It said the group aimed to attack vital targets in Egypt and was awaiting orders from an al Qaeda militant leader abroad.
“Among the targets studied for terrorist attacks were foreign ships on the Suez Canal and oil pipelines,” the Interior Ministry said, referring to the strategic waterway that links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
The group included engineers and technicians able to produce explosives using ordnance discarded during past wars and scavenged from Egypt’s deserts, the ministry said.
It said the group subscribed to a jihadist ideology similar to that of Takfir and Higra, a name adopted by several militant groups in the Arab world.
An Egyptian group of that name killed a cabinet minister in 1977, but its leader was hanged and members jailed.
The detainees whose arrests were announced yesterday were funded by donations from abroad but had also tried to rob a gold store and pharmacy to raise cash, the ministry said.
They are suspected of involvement in a 2008 failed robbery of a Cairo gold shop in which a Christian shop owner and four employees were killed but nothing was stolen, security sources said.
The ministry said the detainees were also suspected of being in contact with the Palestinian Army of Islam, a group accused of involvement in a bomb attack in a popular Cairo tourist area that killed a French teenager in February.
That bomb was the first fatal attack on tourists in Egypt since bombs killed at least 23 people at an Egyptian resort in the Sinai Peninsula in 2006.