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An Egyptian man charged with spying for Israel pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial on Saturday and claimed he had confessed under torture, a court official said.
Mohammed el-Attar, 30, a former student at the renowned Islamic Al-Azhar university in Cairo, was arrested on Jan. 1 as he returned from abroad to visit his family in Egypt.
He was charged with spying for Israel and harming Egyptian national interests. Three Israelis, who were charged alongside el-Attar, remain at large and are being tried in absentia.
After el-Attar's appearance Saturday at the State Security Emergency court, the judge adjourned the hearings till next Wednesday.
In his plea, el-Attar accused security officers of torturing him to get his confession, according to a court official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk the press.
The judge ordered the postponement to give the defense attorney time to review the indictment sheet and evidence presented by the state prosecutor which included a digital camera, photographs of el-Attar and other documents, the official added.
Last week, Egyptian authorities asked Interpol to arrest the three Israelis. The state-run news agency MENA identified them as Daniel Levi, Kemal Kosba and Tuncay Bubay. They are accused of collaborating, recruiting and instructing el-Attar in espionage.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev has said that Israeli authorities learned about the case from the media. "We have no knowledge whatsoever of these allegations or of the people involved," Regev said recently.
Verdicts by Egyptian state security courts are final, except for when a president issues a presidential pardon.
According to the prosecutors, el-Attar confessed of spying for Israel and gave a detailed account of his role in collecting information about Egyptians, and Arabs living in Turkey and Canada in return for money. He also received instructions from the three Israelis, said to be intelligence officers, to recruit Christian Egyptian immigrants in Canada using money and sex.
In 2001, he fled the country after he was sentenced to three years imprisonment in a bank fraud case; he sought asylum with the UN refugee agency offices in Turkey where he allegedly met the Israelis who gave him money in return for cooperating with them and writing reports about Egyptians and Arabs living in Turkey.
He converted to Christianity in Istanbul and named himself Joseph el-Attar, according to the published confessions. Six months later, he was asked to move to Canada, where he worked as a waiter in a fast-food restaurant. From there, he delivered more reports about Christian Egyptians.
He allegedly received US$65,000 (â‚¬49,000) at the end of his stay in Canada.
Rights groups say that in Egypt, torture, including sexual abuse, is routinely conducted in police stations and in the interrogation of prisoners. The government denies systematic torture, but has investigated several officers on allegations of torture. Some were convicted and sentenced to prison time.
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