Egypt Arrests 25 People It Says Plotted Suez Attacks

Egyptian authorities arrested 25 people on suspicion of plotting attacks on oil pipelines and ships in the Suez Canal, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

The group, which Egypt said had links to al-Qaida, was made up of two dozen Egyptians — most of them engineers and technicians — and their Palestinian leader. They also had contacts with militants in the Gaza Strip, the ministry said.

"They believe in takfiri and jihadi thought," a ministry statement said, referring to the radical Sunni Muslim ideology espoused by groups like al-Qaida.

The group planned to use explosives rigged with mobile phone-activated detonators against shipping in the busy Suez Canal, and learned about explosives from al-Qaida militants on jihadi Web sites, the statement said.

In April, Egypt announced it had disrupted a militant cell linked to Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement that also planned to target the Suez Canal.

One of the suspects in the case announced on Thursday crossed into the Gaza Strip to meet up with the Palestinian Army of Islam group to receive instructions on attacking vital and important targets in Egypt, the ministry said.

A group by that name did once operate in Gaza, but was later dismantled by the local Hamas rulers.

Egyptian authorities confiscated explosives, diving suites, electronics and a handgun linked to an attack on a Coptic Christian's jewelry shop in May 2008.

According to confessions the ministry said the group made, the detainees killed the Copt and his three workers during a robbery. They also received funds from Islamic charities abroad.

In May, Egypt announced arrests of seven alleged members of the Palestinian Army of Islam for a bombing in February at Cairo's Khan el-Khalili bazaar that killed one French woman.

Diaa Rashwan, an expert in Islamic militant groups, expressed skepticism and said there are many questions surrounding the Interior Ministry's allegations, and similar cases had never gone to court.

"Here is a catalog of accusations, targets and ties to different groups that don't fit together," Rashwan said.

In the early 1990s, Egypt battled Islamic extremists who attacked police, government officials, tourist sites and commercial interests of the country's Christian minority.

Also Thursday, a security official in northern Sinai said 1,550 pounds (700 kilograms) of TNT destined for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip was found during a search of a storage area outside the city of el-Arish in the northern Sinai Peninsula.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said no arrests were made.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, a military court convicted 12 Palestinians, also described as inspired by al-Qaida, of committing terrorist attacks. Five of them were sentenced in absentia and given life in prison.

All the defendants, most of whom are Palestinians, were members of the militant Fatah Islam group, which battled Lebanese troops for three months in northern Lebanon in 2007. The 12 were found guilty of carrying out bomb attacks in the north and south of the country and establishing an armed gang with the aim of attacking people and weakening state authority.