8 French, 2 Belgian terror suspects expelled from Egypt

The 12, along with an unknown number of Egyptians and Arabs from other countries, were arrested late last month for allegedly belonging to an Islamist terror cell that was plotting attacks in the region including Iraq.

The two Belgians and eight French suspects left Cairo International Airport amid tight security on Thursday afternoon on a charter flight bound for Brussels, an airport official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said that the French Embassy in Cairo had informed him of the expulsions and the eight French suspects would arrive in France. He declined to provide other details, but said earlier this week that French officials had been allowed to visit the suspects while in Egypt's custody.

There was no immediate word from Belgian officials on the expulsions, which come as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak left Wednesday for a five-day trip to Europe. He was scheduled to arrive in Paris on Thursday night for a two-day visit.

Authorities have not provided details about the American, the remaining French citizen, the Egyptians and other Arabs still in custody in Egypt and have not released their identities.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo said on Thursday it had not had consulate access to the American. Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department criticized Egypt for refusing to grant U.S. officials timely access to the arrested American. Egyptian authorities told U.S. officials that no access will be granted until the investigation is completed, he said.

The Interior Minister said the terror suspects were allegedly living in Egypt under the guise of studying Arabic and Islamic studies and had formed a militant cell that was plotting attacks, reports AP.

Security officials said the suspects had a relationship with Omar Abdullah Hamra, the leader of the Islamic militant group "Tawhid and Jihad" who killed himself by detonating an explosives belt while trying to cross into Lebanon from Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Egypt has witnessed a string of suicide terror attacks in recent years at Sinai Peninsula tourist resorts and operates under emergency laws, which gives the government wide powers to detain suspects without charging them. The laws have been in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 despite a growing chorus of opposition from both inside and outside the country.

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