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Egypt holding British 'al-Qaeda members'

Published Apr 18, 2002

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Cairo - Four British men arrested by the Egyptian authorities earlier this month are suspected of having links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, an Egyptian police official said here on Thursday.

The official was asked to comment after the Foreign Office announced in London late on Wednesday that British subjects Maajid Nawaz, Hassan Rizfi, Reza Pankhurst and Ian Malcolm Nisbett were being detained without charge in Egypt.

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The official, who asked not to be named, said the Egyptian authorities arrested two of the Britons in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Their interrogation led to the arrest of the two others in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

"They are suspected of having links with al-Qaeda," the official said on condition he not be named.

Pankhurst and Nisbett were being detained in Cairo while Nawaz and Rizfi were being held in Alexandria, a Foreign Office spokesperson said in London, adding that the men, in their 20s, were arrested on April 1.

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The Egyptian police official gave no other details other than to say that the four arrived in Egypt in March, though he did not say from which country they came.

Egypt's foreign ministry declined to comment on the reports.

In London, the foreign office spokesperson said "we are seeking further information from the Egyptian authorities about the charges that they might face.

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"We have been in close touch with the Egyptians over the last few days."

British officials here and in London said they were in contact with the families of the detainees as well as the Egyptian authorities to determine their legal status and the trial process the detainees face.

"They have not been charged. They are being questioned. We continue to press the Egyptian authorities for information about their detention," the spokesperson in London said.

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Gareth Bayley of the British embassy in Cairo said meanwhile that the families of the four had notified British authorities about their arrests on April 1.

"We immediately sought clarification from the Egyptian authorities and early consular access," said Gareth Bayley.

The Egyptians informally confirmed the four had been detained on April 5 before formally confirming it two days later, he added.

British consular officials were granted access on April 10 and actually visited them on April 11, he added.

US officials say al-Qaeda is a loose network of Islamic militants, headed by Saudi-born Islamist Osama bin Lasen, blamed for the suicide airline hijackings on September 11 in the United States. - Sapa-AFP

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