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In the second case of its kind since the beginning of the year, Egyptian authorities announced on Tuesday that a nuclear engineer at the country's Atomic Energy Agency has been charged with spying for Israel.
Israel denied the allegations, saying similar reports about alleged Israeli spies have proven unfounded. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said: "We've heard about this from the media. These sort of charges unfortunately appear all too often in the Egyptian media and they always prove to be baseless."
Egypt's State Security Prosecutor Hisham Badawi announced that two foreign nationals, a Japanese and an Irishman, were wanted in connection with the case but remained at large. He said all three were accused of conspiring to harm Egypt's national security.
Badawi identified the Egyptian engineer as Muhammad Sayed Saber, 35, and said he was arrested earlier this year but that news of his detention was withheld pending the completion of the investigation.
According to Badawi, the Egyptian engineer, who faces the death sentence if convicted, stole "important documents" from his workplace at Inshas, the site of one of Egypt's small research nuclear reactors, and handed them over to his handlers in return for $17,000.
Saber was arrested by Egyptian security forces on February 18 when he returned to Cairo from one of several trips to Hong Kong, where he had been meeting since 2004 with the two foreigners.
The Egyptians named the Irishman as Brian Peter and the Japanese man as Shiro Izo. The two reportedly told the Egyptian engineer at one meeting in Hong Kong that they wanted him to work for their company.
"The first accused (Saber) said that he understood from the course of these meetings that the company was only a front for the activity of Israeli intelligence," Badawi said.
At a later meeting in Hong Kong in December 2006, Saber gave the Irishman classified documents containing information about the Atomic Energy Agency and the nuclear reactor at Inshas, he added. During his last trip to Hong Kong in February 2007, Saber was subjected to lie detection tests for two days before receiving computer software to hack the Atomic Energy Agency's computer systems, he said.
Sources in Cairo said Saber graduated from Alexandria University in 1994 with a BA in nuclear engineering and obtained a diploma in nuclear reactor physics from Cairo University in 1999.
In 1997 he was hired by the Atomic Energy Agency. Two years later he visited the Israeli embassy in Cairo to apply for a grant to study nuclear engineering in an Israeli university.
The visit, according to security officials in Cairo, aroused the suspicions of the Egyptian security forces, who instructed Saber not to go to the Israeli embassy without prior permission from his superiors at work.
They said the engineer's handlers were interested in information about the capability of the Inshas reactor, how many hours it operated, the type of experiments conducted there and technical problems with the reactor.
They also wanted to know how frequently the International Atomic Energy Agency inspects the reactor, they added.
In January, the Egyptians announced that another Egyptian man, Muhammad el-Attar, who also holds Canadian citizenship, had been arrested on charges of spying for Israel. Three Israelis, who were charged alongside el-Attar, remain at large.
In 2002, an Egyptian court found Sherif al-Filali, an Egyptian engineer, guilty of spying for Israel, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison with hard labor.
Both men have denied the charges.
AP contributed to this report.
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