Published November 12, 2012
EL-ARISH, Egypt – Egyptian security officials said Monday they arrested an escaped convict who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in bombings at tourist resorts on the Red Sea that killed at least 125 people in 2004 and 2005.
Mohammed Abdullah Abu-Jarir was arrested in his home before dawn in the northern Sinai Peninsula town of Sabeel, just outside the provincial capital of el-Arish, the officials said.
Abu-Jarir had been convicted for his role in attacks on Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba, but escaped a Cairo prison during last year's popular uprising that led to the ouster of longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Abu Jarir's brother-in-law, Hassan Ghanem, was also arrested in Sabeel on Monday, the officials added. Ghanem had been wanted in connection with the so-called "Nasr City terror cell", accused of plotting attacks against public figures in Egypt including the new president, Mohammed Morsi.
Two others, originally from northern Sinai, were arrested Sunday in Cairo in connection with the case. They will join eight other men, including three former military officers and a Tunisian, already detained as suspected members of the cell. The eight have denied the accusations, according to officials involved in interrogations led by state prosecutors.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Egypt's army and security forces have launched an offensive to "restore control" of Sinai, after suspected Islamic militants killed 16 soldiers in a stunning attack in August. No group has claimed responsibility for the killings however, and the security offensive has yielded few tangible results. Militant attacks on police checkpoints have become a regular occurrence, and extremists also have struck across the border into neighboring Israel.
Bedouin tribesmen in Sinai have long complained of discrimination by the state, and mass arrests in the area after the 2004 and 2005 bombings only further poisoned relations between residents and authorities. Investigations into the bombings have never given a clear explanation of who was behind the attacks.
Also on Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet was visiting the northern Sinai region for briefings with U.S. troops stationed there.
His visit comes after Republican Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico travelled to the area for Veterans Day weekend, meeting National Guard troops from his state who are preparing to leave after nine months stationed in Sinai. The U.S. Embassy said the troops will be replaced by a contingency from the North Carolina National Guard.
Last week, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command met troops attached to the 12-nation Multinational Force and Observers mission in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The American contingent is the largest of the 1,650-strong MFO mission in Sinai, which is part of the peace treaty signed by Egypt and Israel in 1979.
Associated Press correspondent Aya Batrawy contributed from Cairo.