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EGYPT: How guilty are those in the 'Hezbollah cell'?

August 23, 2009 | 10:01 am

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Twenty-six men accused of forming a terrorist cell in Egypt on behalf of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah appeared before a state security court in Cairo today in a case that painted them either as jihadists or victims of regional politics.

The prosecutor's case is based on claims that the defendants were plotting attacks against Israeli tourists in Egypt and on ships in the Suez Canal, as well as allegations of their involvement in smuggling weapons between Sinai and Gaza. However, questions have been raised over the length of the investigation and why the men were detained for months before a trial date was set.

Some of the accused have admitted to planning attacks against Israelis, but a number of human-rights organizations allege that police forced those confessions through torture. The defendants' lawyers said that referring the case to a state security court -- set up under Egypt's emergency laws, which have been in effect since 1981 -- deprived the accused of many basic legal rights, including the right to appeal the court's ruling.

The case has become more than just a national security matter. Egypt's relations with the Iran-backed Hezbollah are known to be poor, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit previously said Iran was using the Lebanese group to gain a foothold in Egypt.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Egypt's accusations were politically motivated and a fabrication aimed at setting Egyptians against his group. Nasrallah confirmed that Sami Shihab – one of five Lebanese accused – belonged to Hezbollah and was in Egypt for a logistical mission concerned with helping the Palestinian resistance, not for carrying out any attacks on Egyptian soil.

Politicizing the "Hezbollah-cell" case could have a major effect on how the ongoing trial is seen. It remains to be determined whether the indicted are victims of the Egyptian-Iranian conflict or really were planning terrorist attacks to further Hezbollah's agenda.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Hassan Nasrallah on Hezbollah's Manar TV. Credit: AFP

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