Egyptian authorities have arrested 13 members of the Muslim Brotherhood on suspicion of planting bombs around the Suez Canal to disrupt shipping, security sources have reported.
The men formed a 13-member cell that included an employee at the Suez Canal Authority.
Prosecutors had ordered that suspected terrorists be detained for 15 days and said they had planted bombs in areas including sanitation and electricity facilities as well as on beaches, they said.
The Suez Canal is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia. Around 18,000 ships pass through the canal annually, which amounts to 10% of global maritime trade. Currently, the canal is in the midst of an $8 billion expansion that is set to begin operations August 6.
The Suez Canal represents a vital source of income, earning Egypt around $5 billion per year. The new canal, which will allow two-way traffic of larger ships, is supposed to increase revenues by 2023 to $15 billion. Attacks against the canal have the potential to severely impeded Egypt’s economic development.
Egypt’s government has recently escalated rhetoric against the Brotherhood, which it regards as a terrorist organization, since the assassination of the country’s top prosecutor last week.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a Pan-Islamic group, which has been implicated in terrorist activities. The group has one of its largest organizations in Egypt even though the government officially declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization in 2014.
The army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful activism designed to reverse what it calls a military coup, after former army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Mursi, and then went on to become elected president.
Security forces cracked down hard on Mursi’s supporters after he was ousted, killing hundreds in the streets at Cairo protest camps and arresting thousands of others in what human rights groups described as a return to repression.
Last week Egyptian security forces stormed an apartment in a western Cairo suburb and killed nine men whom they said were armed, the interior ministry said.
Among the dead was a prominent lawyer for the Brotherhood and a former lawmaker. The Brotherhood denied that the men were armed and said they were holding an “organizational meeting”.
Egypt does not distinguish between the Brotherhood and groups such as Islamic State, which has an affiliate in Sinai, epicenter of an Islamist militant insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers and police since Mursi’s fall.
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