JERUSALEM – The Egyptian military has nabbed three Palestinians who had escaped from prison and who were suspected of being part of a larger cell thought to be planning attacks against tourist sites and economic targets, including the Suez Canal, an Egyptian intelligence official told WND.
Seven more members of the cell, including gunmen from Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, remained at large after escaping from prison amid the recent riots in Egypt targeting the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, the intelligence official said.
The speed with which the three Palestinians were captured and the priority given to the escaped cell at a time Egypt’s military is busy quelling weeks of unrest clearly testifies to the magnitude of fear Egypt has over the terrorist cell.
The Egyptian intelligence official said the other seven cell members are thought to have escaped Egypt into the neighboring Gaza Strip. He said the Egyptian military is interrogating the recaptured Palestinian convicts to determine why they had stayed behind in Egypt.
WND first reported last week members of the cell suspected of planning an attack targeting the Suez had escaped from jail.
The event raised the prospect of further instability in the Suez region, which carries about 8 percent of global seaborne trade.
Cell members had been arrested in June 2009. At the time, Egypt’s public prosecutor, Abdel-Magid Mohammed, announced the country had arrested 13 alleged Hezbollah agents on suspicion of planning attacks inside Egypt.
WND first reported in 2009 Iranian soldiers aiding the Hezbollah members were nabbed in Egypt.
A senior Egyptian security official, speaking from Cairo, told WND in 2009 his country had information Hezbollah cells – working with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – had been coordinating terrorist activities inside Egypt with al-Qaida elements known to be present in the Sinai.
The accusation that Iranian-backed agents were working with al-Qaida could not be verified by Israeli security officials. If accurate, it would mark a major turning point for Hezbollah, which has openly clashed with al-Qaida over ideology. Hezbollah espouses a strict Shiite Islamic belief system, while al-Qaida adheres to fundamentalist Sunni Muslim beliefs.
Al-Qaida has been fingered in a string of major, deadly suicide bombings inside Egypt the past few years, mostly targeting hotels and other tourist sites. The Egyptian government previously has admitted it was likely al-Qaida still was operating in the Sinai.
The Egyptian security official speaking to WND said the Hezbollah-Iranian agents in Egypt were working with al-Qaida to plot attacks against tourist sites, particularly those known to be popular with Israelis.
According to separate informed security officials with direct knowledge of the situation, Hezbollah, working directly with Iran, began setting up cells inside Egypt at least two years ago. The cells consisted more than 80 agents, said the sources.
The goals of the cells operating inside the country include plotting to destabilize Egypt to advance Iranian interests, planning attacks against tourist sites with Israeli casualties in mind, aiding Hamas in Gaza and establishing a base of Iranian operations along the strategic Suez Canal.
The pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported Egypt arrested the chief of the Hezbollah cell, identified as Sami Shehab. The newspaper claimed Shehab confessed his cell monitored tourist sites in the Egyptian resort cities of Taba, Dahab and Sharm el-Sheikh, and tracked Israeli ships passing through the Suez Canal.