Egypt has detained seven people with links to al Qaeda suspected of involvement in a bomb attack in a popular Cairo tourist area that killed a French teenager in February, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.
Those detained had explosives and ammunition in their possession when they were taken into custody, and had been recruited to carry out attacks in Egypt and abroad, the statement said.
“State security investigators were able to identify a group of Egyptian and foreign elements connected to the al Qaeda organisation who go by the name Palestinian Army of Islam,” the statement said. It said seven of the group were detained.
The February 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. Egypt blamed that attack on Bedouin with militant views, Reuters recalls.
Security sources said the seven people currently detained had been involved in planning the bombing in a crowded square near the 14th-century Khan el-Khalili market, where tourists shop for trinkets and sit at outdoor cafes.
But they said the actual perpetrators of the attack, which also wounded 20 people, had not yet been arrested.
Islamic militants have sporadically hit tourist targets in recent years through bomb and shooting attacks, dealing a blow to an industry that is one of Egypt’s top hard currency earners.
Al Qaeda often condemns Egypt’s government as a corrupt U.S. puppet and calls for its overthrow.
The group reported detained on Saturday comprised at least one woman and several nationalities. It included a French woman of Albanian origin, a Belgian man of Tunisian origin, a British man of Egyptian origin, two Egyptians and two Palestinians.
“It (the group) was urged to carry out terrorist operations in the country and abroad,” the Interior Ministry statement said.
The February bomb was the first of a series of small attacks in Cairo. In the days that followed, an American teacher was stabbed by an attacker who said he was motivated by a hatred of foreigners, and an attacker threw a firebomb at a rail station.
The US embassy in Cairo later warned its citizens to exercise caution in Egypt, saying more attacks may be planned, although the events did not appear connected.
The attacks have been embarrassing for Egypt, which tries hard to project an image of security and stability but has angered Arab public opinion by helping Israel enforce a blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The statement said the group was managed by two Egyptians living outside of the country who had recruited militants to sneak into Gaza for advanced training in explosives, electrical circuitry, remote detonation and on booby traps.
Those militants later returned to Egypt via tunnels to carry out attacks, it added.
The Belgian man also reported he had been instructed to travel to his country to get in touch with members of al Qaeda and to head to France with a female companion to carry out attacks there, the Interior Ministry said.