Mubarak takes hard line on Islamist groups seen as a threat to stability

Egypt's president said his security forces would quash Islamist groups threatening stability in Egypt and the region, highlighting worries about al Qa'eda building up strength in places such as Yemen.

Powered by automated translation

CAIRO // Egypt's president said yesterday his security forces would quash Islamist groups threatening stability in Egypt and the region, highlighting worries about al Qa'eda building up strength in places such as Yemen. Hosni Mubarak also defended building a barrier on the Gaza border, saying it would stop the passage of militants there. The move has drawn criticism from inside Egypt and other Arabs who say Cairo is colluding with Israel to blockade the Palestinians.

Egyptian security personnel have made a series of arrests in recent months of suspected members of outlawed Islamist groups, raising concerns about a resurgence of militancy in a country that fought an Islamist rebellion the 1990s. "We live in a difficult region and a world fraught with tension - witnessing an expansion of instability across the world from Afghanistan to Pakistan and in Iran and Iraq and Yemen and Somalia and Sudan," Mr Mubarak said in a speech marking Police Day.

He said the security forces would "continue fiercely confronting the terrorism and extremism - for the security of the nation and citizens". The rise of militants linked to al Qa'eda in countries like Yemen and Somalia has prompted analysts to shine a spotlight on Egypt, the home of al Qa'eda's No 2, Ayman Zawahri, and other leading Islamist thinkers over the decades. Mr Mubarak, speaking live on television, said there was a "widening circle of Salafi ideology and groups and their false claims to declare people as infidels and to terrorise innocent people and disturb social stability of the nation". He did not name any groups, but one group associated with an interpretation of Salafi teaching and calling itself Takfir wa Hijra kidnapped and killed the Egyptian minister of religious endowments in 1977. The leader was later hanged.

Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the failed bombing of a US-bound plane on December 25 in an audiotape that Al Jazeera television said yesterday was of the al Qa'eda leader. Analysts said his message was aimed to show the group was still operational and to win Arab support. On the Gaza barrier, Mr Mubarak said: "We have started construction along our borders not to appease anyone but to protect our nation from terrorist plots like the ones that took place in Taba, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and Cairo."

Mr Mubarak was referring to bombings in tourism centres, such as the deadly attacks on the resort of Sharm el Sheikh in 2006. "The works and reinforcements on our eastern border are a matter of Egyptian sovereignty. We do not accept a debate on the issue with anyone," Mr Mubarak said. "It is the right of the Egyptian state, and even its duty, its responsibility. It is the right of every state to control and protect its borders."

Egypt has also been more vocal in its pressure on Hamas, which it accuses of refusing a reconciliation agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Israel has sealed the Gaza Strip off to all but very limited supplies of basic goods ever since the group seized control in 2007, ousting forces loyal to the western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. On January 6, an Egyptian policeman was killed and five people wounded during clashes on the Egypt-Gaza border after Palestinian demonstrations to protest against the construction of the barrier.

The president also said his government would not tolerate sectarian violence, after six Christians and a Muslim police officer were gunned down on January 6 - the Coptic Christmas eve - in a drive-by shooting in the mainly Muslim country. Mr Mubarak said those with "foreign agendas" were seeking to encourage sectarian unrest but did not mention names. Egyptian prosecutors charged 26 men in 2009 of links to Lebanon's Hizbollah and of planning attacks in Egypt.

* Reuters, with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse