Egypt Questions Al-Jazeera Chief Over Bombing Coverage

Egyptian state security prosecutors questioned the Cairo bureau chief of Al-Jazeera on Thursday after he was detained for his reporting on this week's Sinai beach resort bombings, the pan-Arab satellite channel said.

Hussein Abdel Ghani was arrested Wednesday evening at his hotel in the Sinai town of Dahab where bombs Monday killed 21 people and wounded 85. He was accused of "propagating false news that can disturb national security and cause chaos," Al-Jazeera reported on Thursday.

CountryWatch: Egypt

Abdel Ghani was being questioned at the chief prosecutor's office in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, where he was taken after his arrest. The report said journalists and members of local human rights groups had gathered outside the prosecutor's offices in a show of solidarity.

If convicted, Abdel Ghani could face three to five years in prison.

The case is "a flagrant violation of freedom of opinion in Egypt and an insult to a journalist whose only fault was trying to ensure the free flow of information," Al-Jazeera said.

The Dahab attacks were the third strike on Sinai tourist resorts in the past two years. Eager to avoid damage to Sinai's vital tourist trade by linking Al Qaeda to the bombings, Egyptian authorities have blamed Bedouin tribesmen for past attacks. But some outside intelligence officials say groups linked to Usama bin Laden's terror network are more likely suspects.

Earlier Thursday, Abdel Ghani told Al-Jazeera in a call from his cell phone that he had been detained in what he called a "police kidnapping operation."

He said police officers who did not identify themselves had detained him in his Dahab hotel and bundled him into a van before he could even put on his shoes. He said the officers confiscated his cell phone so he could not call his office or family, but it was later returned.

Al-Jazeera showed video of Abdel Ghani escorted from a minibus by police. Clutching a bottle of water, he waved to supporters as he was hurried along by policemen.

Speaking from the chief prosecutor's office, he denied the allegations against him.

The station also reported that security took longer than necessary to relay medication to Abdel Ghani which he takes for a chronic back condition.

Security officials refused to comment.

Abdel Ghani is a well-known face on Al-Jazeera, having reported from Cairo since the channel began in 1997. Previously he worked for the BBC Arabic service.

An Egyptian citizen, Abdel Ghani is in his 40s and married with four children.

Al-Jazeera is watched by millions of Arab viewers, but has been accused of bias by Washington and has had its reporters barred by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.