Thursday 29 April 2010

Egypt sentences 26 for plotting Hezbollah terrorist campaign

22 jailed, four on the run, as Cairo court convicts on charges of spying, arms smuggling and Sinai resorts attack plot

Twenty-six Arabs have been sentenced to prison in Egypt after being convicted of planning terrorist attacks on ships and tourist sites on behalf of the Lebanese Shia organisation Hezbollah, which claimed it was seeking to support Palestinian resistance to Israel in the Gaza Strip.

The emergency state security court in Cairo today handed down jail terms ranging from six months to life to 22 suspects of Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian and Sudanese origin. Four other men who are still on the run, including the alleged cell leader, were convicted in their absence. Sami Shihab, a Lebanese citizen who Hezbollah had previously confirmed was a member, was given a 15-year sentence.

The defendants were charged with spying on ships in the Suez canal, planning attacks on resorts popular with Israeli tourists in the Sinai peninsula and with smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Three of the suspects were charged with digging tunnels under Egypt's border with Gaza.

Cries of "Allahu akbar" – God is great – rang out when the sentences were handed down in the heavily guarded courtroom.

Lawyers said the accused were trying to support the Palestinian resistance and that some of them had been tortured – a common occurrence in Egyptian prisons.

"The verdict proves only that the case is politically motivated," defence lawyer Abdul-Monem Abdel-Maqsud told al-Jazeera TV. "It only serves the Zionist entity which has welcomed the trial as it diverts attention away from calls to try their Gaza war criminals."

The controversial case illuminated one of the Middle East's great divides: between US-backed Egypt, with its peace treaty with Israel – and Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran. Hezbollah has sought to play it down since the trial began last summer but maintains that its only interest was backing Palestinian resistance to the Jewish state.

Judge Adel Abdel-Salam Gomaa said investigations showed the group had intended "to strike Egypt's economy, destroy the bonds between its people and create chaos and instability." The accused denied the charges but prosecutors produced video footage showing explosives in premises they had used.

No appeal against the sentences is possible but there is already speculation in Cairo about possible presidential pardons as the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, seeks to improve his long-strained relations with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general, described the charges as revenge for the organisation's denunciation of Egypt's support for the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In December 2008, as Israel carried out its offensive in the Gaza Strip, Nasrallah accused Mubarak of "taking part in the crime" of Israel's onslaught an called for the overthrow of his regime.


No comments:

Post a Comment