Egyptian 'spy' repeats torture claims

Trial begins of man accused of spying for Israel; says confession was forced.

Egypt spy 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
Egypt spy 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
An Egyptian-Canadian man accused of spying for Israel repeated his claims Wednesday that he was forced to confess while authorities tortured him by electrocution and other extreme measures. Mohammed el-Attar, 30, is on trial in the State Security Emergency Court on charges he was spying for Israel and harming Egyptian national interests. He has pleaded not guilty. Three Israelis, who were charged alongside el-Attar, remain at large and are being tried in absentia. If convicted, el-Attar and his co-defendants face a maximum life sentence, with hard labor. During Wednesday's hearing, the judge allowed el-Attar to remove his handcuffs and meet with his attorney, Ibrahim el-Desouqi, outside of the iron cage where defendants usually are placed during court sessions. The two met alone outside of the courtroom for 15 minutes. When they returned, el-Desouqi urged the court to drop the confessions, saying they were extracted under torture. Before his hearing Wednesday, el-Attar told reporters from inside the cage that the confessions he gave police "were all fabricated lies" and accused the security officers of torturing him. He said an officer forced "me to sign a statement after electrocuting me and forced me to drink my urine. I was being tortured for four weeks in solitary confinement." According to the prosecutors, el-Attar confessed to 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. The alleged confessions, that have been published earlier this month in the independent and government newspapers here, claimed that el-Attar fled Egypt in 2001 and sought asylum with the U.N. refugee agency offices in Turkey after he was sentenced to three years in prison for bank fraud. The published confessions alleged that el-Attar met the Israelis who gave him money in return for cooperating with them and writing reports about Egyptians and Arabs living in Turkey, and converted to Christianity in Istanbul. Six months later, he was allegedly sent to Canada, where he delivered more reports about Christian Egyptians. "I am Muslim and all the allegations that I have changed my religion were lies. I was only looking for the truth" el-Attar said before Wednesday's hearing. "I left Egypt because of family problems." El-Attar also claimed that the security officers in the airport stashed drugs in his baggage as he arrived home, and made up the story of meeting the Israeli officers, saying that he had "never been to Israel and will never go there." The judge adjourned the trial until March 26. Israeli 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. El-Attar is a former student at the renowned Islamic Al-Azhar university in Cairo and was arrested on January 1 as he returned from abroad to visit his family in Egypt. 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. Three of el-Attar's family members and two officials of the Canadian embassy attended the trial Wednesday. All declined to comment. Last week, Egyptian authorities asked Interpol to arrest the three Israelis involved in the case, accused of collaborating, recruiting and instructing el-Attar in espionage. The state-run news agency MENA identified them as Daniel Levi, Kemal Kosba and Tuncay Bubay.