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Official: Yemeni militants infiltrated Egypt before Rafah attack

By Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, for CNN
August 18, 2012 -- Updated 0235 GMT (1035 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Official: 10 Yemeni militants came to Egypt two months before Rafah attack
  • The militants were smuggled into Sinai from Sudan among groups of African migrants
  • "We hope to capture them in our raids," official says
  • Israel and U.S. are concerned about the rise of terrorist cells in the Sinai peninsula

Sinai, Egypt (CNN) -- Ten Yemeni militants infiltrated Egyptian soil two months ago and trained local Jihadi cells in the Sinai peninsula, a security official said Friday.

"Several foreign men were spotted shopping in the market by residents and we received intelligence that they were in communication with Jihadist cells in Al Mukataa, a remote area south of Sheikh Zuweid in Northern Sinai," said a senior security official associated with Egypt's North Sinai's border guards, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We hope to capture them in our ongoing raids. They could be hiding in Jabal-Al Halal -- a rugged mountain terrain in central Sinai."

The Yemeni militants were smuggled into Sinai from Sudan among groups of African migrants who have been sold to Bedouin who traffic refugees into Israel for cash, said Ibrahim Al Menei, a Bedouin leader from the Swarkeh tribe who has spearheaded a committee of hundreds of men to curb the illegal trafficking of Africans through the Sinai.

"Word spread among the community that these Yemeni militants were training Jihadi cells in Sheikh Zuweid. The intelligence officers were aware of their presence," Menei told CNN.

Salem Aneizan, another Bedouin leader, said he had also heard the militants were training Jihadis in the North.

"I hope they are not al Qaeda. Yemen is their hub," said Aneizan, who has been assisting the police in securing remote areas in the Sinai since an outbreak of kidnappings and attacks on security checkpoints in recent months.

Last week, the Egyptian military launched "Operation Eagle" -- a massive offensive using Apache gunships and M-60 tanks against suspected militant Jihadi cells holed up in Sinai since unidentified masked gunmen killed 16 soldiers on August 8 in the border city of Rafah in North-Sinai. Israeli and Egyptian authorities coordinated to allow the helicopter gunships and heavy machinery into the demilitarized zone in accord with the Camp David agreement signed in 1979.

No group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack that has gripped the nation and the international media.

Six Egyptian suspects were arrested last week in Sheikh Zuweid but three were later released after questioning, according to Gen. Ahmed Bakr, head of North-Sinai security.

Sinai had fallen into a state of lawlessness since the uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year. Both Israel and the United States have voiced their concern about the rise of terrorist cells in the Sinai.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned during a visit to Egypt last month that the desert border between Israel and Egypt could become an "operational base" for jihadists if security is not maintained. Israel has raised concerns about the region in the wake of the fall of the Mubarak government.

In an interview with CNN, Clinton said the problem was discussed at length during her meetings in Egypt and Israel.

There is "the potential of jihadists and terrorists taking up an operational base in Sinai," Clinton said in the interview. "We think this is a dangerous situation for both Egypt and Israel. It is also dangerous for Americans. We have Americans who are part of the multinational force that observes the continuation of the monitoring (of the) Camp David Accord. We have Americans in the Sinai. We've had a few concerns about their safety."

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