Egypt holds 62 accused of plot to bomb lobby group

Source: Reuters

CAIRO, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Egypt has detained 62 Islamists accused of plotting to blow up a pro-democracy lobby group in Cairo headed by Egyptian dissident Saadeddin Ibrahim, who is now in exile abroad, security sources said on Tuesday.

The sources said the men, accused of belonging to an Islamist group they called Takfir and Higra, were arrested over the past month on suspicion of plotting to blow up the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies.

The sources said the men were motivated by anti-U.S. sentiment.The Ibn Khaldoun Centre is led by sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim, a U.S.-Egyptian dual citizen who has pushed for greater political freedoms in Egypt and who was jailed in 2002 on charges including damaging Egypt's reputation abroad.

The arrests coincided with an escalating crackdown on political dissent in Egypt, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, that has targeted journalists, rights groups and political opposition movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The director of the Ibn Khaldoun Centre, Ahmed Rizk, said he had received no formal notice from the government about the arrests but planned to increase security around the centre.

Security sources said the men, who have not yet been formally charged but were in custody pending an investigation, denied the accusations.

Over the years the Egyptian authorities have detained several groups of what they call extremists on suspicion of planning acts of violence. But some of the cases have never gone to trial and the suspects have been freed.

Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm newspaper reported that the men were plotting to blow up the centre with a car bomb and had been in contact with "extremist elements" abroad. The paper reported that the group had hatched the plot after reading Ibrahim's secular writings and learning of his ties to the United States. Ibrahim is currently outside Egypt and has said he faced possible arrest should he return as old accusations against him were revived, this time in the form of private lawsuits.

Ibrahim has been lobbying Washington and the European Union to demand greater progress toward more judicial independence, greater media and civil freedoms and internationally supervised elections in exchange for foreign aid.

He also wants to see an end to emergency laws put in place after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

Takfir and Higra is a name adopted by several militant groups in the Arab world over the years. It refers to their belief that society at large is infidel and that the group must seek a temporary safe haven where it can build up its strength.

An Egyptian Islamist group of the same name kidnapped and killed the Egyptian minister of religious endowments in 1977, but their leader was later hanged and many members imprisoned.

In recent years Egypt has sporadically arrested Islamists it says belong to the disbanded group or were seeking to revive it.

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