Egypt is tracking a terror cell inside its country it says includes Palestinians from the Gaza Strip seeking to carry out a large scale attack in the Sinai desert, Egyptian security officials told WND.
The Egyptian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is information a group of terrorists entered the country last month and is seeking to carry out a series of bombings in the Sinai's Sharm al-Sheikh region. Sharm al-Sheikh is a Sinai resort spot popular with Israeli and foreign tourists.
The officials say they believe the terror cell, consisting of 12-18 members, includes terrorists from the Persian Gulf and Sudan and is backed up by Bedouin Egyptians in the Sinai. The cell, the officials say, also consists of Palestinian terrorists who entered the Sinai from the neighboring Gaza Strip.
This would not be the first time Gaza-based Palestinians are suspected of plotting terror attacks against Egypt.
In May, Egyptian authorities announced Palestinians based in Gaza helped train and finance the perpetrators of triple bomb blasts one month earlier in the Sinai desert resort town of Dahab. The attacks, which killed 24 civilians, were widely blamed on local cells of Sinai-based Bedouins working for al-Qaeda.
Also Egyptian security reports listed possible Hamas involvement in the suicide bombings of tourist centers in Taba in October 2004, killing 34 people, including 11 Israelis. Taba borders the Israeli resort town of Eilat.
Israel's Kol Yisrael Radio reported that Egypt last week arrested Palestinians it suspects of plotting terror attacks in the Sinai.
The Egyptian officials, though, told WND security forces have not caught any members of the cell they are tracking. They said forces have arrested and are interrogating several Egyptians known to help facilitate the smuggling of terrorists into the country.
Said an Egyptian official: "If Palestinians from Gaza succeed in carrying out an attack against Egypt, it will be a turning point in Palestinian terrorism."
Some analysts in Israel long have warned of Palestinian anti-Egyptian sentiment, pointing in particular to Hamas, which was founded in 1987 as a military offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood seeks the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime and the creation of an Islamic theocracy throughout the Middle East.
Although there are some tactical differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas – the Muslim Brotherhood says it is committed to a non-violent, reformist approach to Islamic takeover – experts say they are concerned by the current level of cooperation between the two organizations.
Reuven Erlich, director of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Israel's Center for Special Studies (link: http://www.terrorism-info.org.il), highlighted recently captured Hamas posters and material from the West Bank and Gaza which list Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna as one of the most important figures to Hamas.
"We found al-Banna's face all over Hamas material. He is an important part of Hamas culture and ideology and is held by them in the highest regard," Erlich told WND.
Palestinian security sources close to Hamas told WND Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akif has been serving as a replacement Hamas spiritual leader ever since Israel assassinated former spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin in March 2004.
"Whenever there is an organizational spiritual issue, Hamas takes it to Akif," said the Palestinian source. "He gave them the blessing to run in the elections and was instrumental in using Islamic tradition to deduce it was OK to join the government. The Brotherhood in essence is helping run Hamas. And Akif is the most important religious personality in the Hamas leadership right now."
An Israeli security official said Egypt is especially concerned by the close proximity of the Gaza Strip, which borders the Sinai Desert.
Egyptian forces together with Palestinian security officers and European monitors now control the Rafah Crossing at the Gaza-Sinai border after a deal brokered last November by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Israeli security officials say many Egypt-Gaza border areas are penetrable.
"For all intents and purposes, there is no Egypt-Gaza border," said an Israeli security official.
Reprinted with permission of WorldNetDaily