Twenty-two men, dressed in white and crowded into a cage in a Cairo court, on Sunday denied charges of plotting attacks in Egypt for Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, with some alleging torture by police.
As the trial began, the alleged members of the cell pleaded not guilty to charges of “conspiracy to murder, spying for a foreign organization with intent of conducting terrorist attacks and weapons possession.”
Some of the defendants said they had been tortured in police custody, with one man shouting to the judge: “If you don’t believe us, just look at our bodies.”
Four more accused are on the run and are being tried in abstentia, including alleged Lebanese mastermind Mohammed Qublan.
The accused include two Lebanese, five Palestinians and 19 Egyptians.
During the hearing one man shouted, “We are at your command Nasrallah,” in an apparent reference to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who admitted in April that one of the defendants, Lebanese Mohammed Yusuf Ahmed Mansur known as Sami Shihab, was a Hezbollah agent.
Nasrallah said Mansur was tasked with smuggling weapons to militants in the Gaza Strip.
Family members were barred from attending the hearing. Dozens of relatives stood outside the courtroom in the hope of getting a glimpse of the defendants they had not seen in months.
“We don’t know anything about him. We have not seen him or heard from him in over nine months,” said the mother of Ihab Abdel Hadi, 30, who was arrested at his home in the north Sinai town of El-Arish in December.
Ihab’s wife Dina, 20, wearing a long black gown and niqab slitted to reveal her wet eyes, prayed nearby as she carried her one-year-old son.
“He is innocent, totally innocent. He is not into politics. He is a simple builder who only cares about his family,” she said.
As the blue vans carrying the defendants rolled in amid a blare of sirens, female relatives began to wail.
“May God punish the punishers,” screamed one woman at the top of her voice.
“Show some mercy during Ramadan,” another shouted.
Munira al-Hanafi, the wife of defendant Mossad Abdel Rahman al-Sherif, said her husband had been living in Saudi Arabia for the past two years and only came back to Egypt in April, when he was arrested at the airport.
“If he were guilty, would he have come home in the middle of the storm?” she asked, standing next to Mossad’s two sisters who were carrying plastic bags filled with food and drink they hoped to pass on to their brother.
Authorities began arresting members of what has become known as the “Hezbollah cell” last year, accusing them of plotting attacks against Israeli tourists and on ships in the Suez Canal.
The arrests led to a war of words between Sunni Egypt and Hezbollah’s Shiite Iranian backers, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit accusing Iran of using Hezbollah to gain a foothold in Egypt.
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