After a calm 2008, this year saw the reemergence of terrorist incidents and alleged terror cells operating on Egyptian soil, but to a much lesser extent than the mid-1990s.
The most tragic incident occurred Feb. 22 when a rudimentary device exploded in the tourist area of Khan El-Khalili near Al-Hussein Mosque that caused the death of a 17-year-old French girl on a school trip to Egypt and injured 23 others.
In May, the Interior Ministry announced it had arrested seven people in connection with the bombing, adding that they had ties with Al-Qaeda. They were arrested while in possession of weapons and ammunition and were planning further attacks, according to the statement. Alleged targets were reportedly tourist sites and oil installations in the Sinai Peninsula.
Two Egyptians were identified; Ahmed Mohamed Siddiq and Khaled Mahmoud Mustapha. Those arrested besides the two Egyptians were two Palestinians, a British man of Egyptian descent (identified as Hazem Mustapha Ibrahim), a Belgian of Tunisian origins and a French woman of Algerian descent.
Investigations were carried out by State Security and referred to the Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.
The terrorism theme also emerged in April when it was revealed that the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah was operating a cell on Egyptian soil, which was allegedly offering support to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A diplomatic spat ensued when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah admitted that the alleged ringleader Sami Hani Shihab was a member of his group and was in Egypt carrying out logistical work to help Hamas in Gaza.
Egypt reacted furiously to this, with both politicians and state-run newspaper editors furiously criticizing Nasrallah and his group.
Twenty-six people were referred to the Prosecutor General for being members of the cell, four in absentia, including Hezbollah commander Mohamed Qublan. The trial began in August at the State Security Emergency Court.
Lawyers of the 22 defendants on trial submitted numerous complaints to the Prosecutor General because of their inability to reach their clients. Additionally, many of the defendants claimed they had been tortured when in the custody of State Security.
One defendant, Adel Ghareez, who was in the initial batch of 49 detainees before the trial started, was rendered paraplegic, according to his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud. He was later released.
The trial of the Hezbollah cell is still ongoing behind closed doors.
Another alleged terrorist cell that made the headlines was known as the Zeitoun cell. State Security announced in July that 25 Egyptians and one Palestinian had formed a terrorist cell which was responsible for the murder of four Coptic jewelers in the district of Zeitoun in May 2008 and was planning other attacks, including planting bombs along the Suez Canal.
As part of the Zeitoun cell case, lawyers stated they were being prevented from attending hearings on the case and were not informed about the whereabouts of the defendants.
According to a statement by the Hesham Mubarak Law Center, 14 people were arrested in two villages in Mansoura on July 2, two of which were named by State Security as part of the Zeitoun cell.
By accusing them of the Zeitoun murders, State Security Prosecution “was plugging a gap that was causing the Interior Ministry embarrassment due to their inability to locate the perpetrators all this time, the statement read.
The defense team asserted that the arrests and subsequent detainment were unconstitutional under the emergency law. This was because the emergency law does not have a clause that circumvents articles 41, 44 and 45 of the Egyptian constitution, which regulate methods of arrest.
In the Zeitoun cell case, defendants informed their lawyers they were tortured while in the custody of State Security. State Security is holding the defendants in an undisclosed location and the defense team has only been in contact with the detainees who have appeared for questioning in front of the State Security Prosecution.
Lawyer from the defense team Sayed Fathi told Daily News Egypt at the time, “They have been tortured, they told us as much when we met them and some cried when recounting the details.
One defendant had told the lawyers that he was subjected to electric shocks to his ears, nipples, penis and testicles while tied naked and splayed to a bed.
The detainee, a university student, had appeared extremely disoriented when he appeared before the prosecution, something all the detainees had in common, Fathi said.
Persistent written requests submitted to the Prosecutor General, State Council, Minister of Interior and the President by the defense team to locate the whereabouts of the detainees have been ignored.
The Zeitoun cell case is still in the investigations phase and a trial date has not been set.