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Egypt has not contacted Israel regarding an alleged Israeli spy-ring uncovered by Egypt's state security prosecutor, and officials in Jerusalem said Sunday that Israel knows nothing about the allegations or about other Israelis named in the Egyptian press as having been involved in the affair.
"Egypt has not made any petition to the Foreign Ministry on this matter," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. "We know nothing about this, beyond what is in the press. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has also said that they know nothing about this."
Egypt accuses Israelis of espionage
Nevertheless, the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reported Sunday that Egypt's security echelon has been keeping track of a university student, Muhammad al-Attar, arrested under charges of passing information to Mossad agents since 2002.
Israeli government officials said the case had disturbing similarities to the arrest of Azzam Azzam in 1996 on what Israel said were trumped-up espionage charges. Azzam was also charged by Egypt's state security prosecutor.
Azzam was sentenced in 1997 and finally released from Egyptian jails in 2004. Israel denied that Azzam was involved in espionage.
The difference this time, according to Israeli officials, was that the alleged spy in Egyptian custody is an Egyptian, not an Israeli.
The Egyptian press has identified the three Israelis as Daniel Levi, Kemal Kosba and Tuncay Bubay, and said they were presently in Canada and Turkey. The Foreign Ministry said it had no information about these men.
Government officials in Jerusalem said every once in a while the Egyptian press trumpets stories about alleged Israeli spies, in what has been interpreted in Jerusalem as an attempt to keep Israel perceived in a negative light in Egypt. What makes this case different is that it did not originate with the press, but rather in the state security apparatus, a body roughly equivalent to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
According to the Al-Hayat report, Attar left Egypt in 2001 to live in Turkey. He allegedly admitted to leaving because he was unable to integrate into Egyptian society by his third year as a student at Al-Azhar University, and chose Turkey because of the relative ease in obtaining a tourist visa and its proximity to Europe.
The newspaper wrote that Attar told his interrogators that upon arriving in Turkey he asked to be sheltered by United Nations workers in Ankara on the basis of humanitarian needs, saying he hoped to immigrate to a western country.
According to the report, Attar met Levi in Turkey, and Levi helped him seek refuge from the UN after he told him of his troubles.
According to the report, Levi was a Mossad agent who "brought Attar into" the Mossad circle and instructed him on how to gather intelligence on Egyptian citizens and other Arabs in Turkey.
Attar was allegedly asked to photograph his subjects and write reports detailing their financial situations. The information about the men was to be used to see whether they would be suitable as Mossad agents, the report said.
The Mossad, the report continued, sent Attar to Canada, where he met another Mossad agent, Kosba. Kosba, according to the newspaper story, arranged for Attar to work in a fast-food restaurant where he could continue gathering information on Egyptians and other Arabs in Canada.
A third Mossad agent who had allegedly employed Attar, Bubay, told him not to deposit the money he had received from the agents directly into his bank account so that it could not be traced, the report continued.
In Toronto, Al-Hayat reported, Bubay arranged work for Attar that was close to the city's central mosque and instructed him to follow up on bank accounts belonging to Egyptian and Arab clients.
Al-Hayat reported that an Egyptian investigation into the events uncovered that Attar had obtained Canadian citizenship and flown home for a month to visit his family in November.
Bubay allegedly ordered Attar to go to Israel following his homeland visit and make contact with him to receive a new task. Egyptian security officials said they discovered an instruction sheet sent via the Internet detailing how to get to Israel from Egypt through Jordan.
According to Al-Hayat, Egyptian intelligence had known about Attar's planned visit and he was stopped by authorities at Cairo's international airport on January 1.