Egypt shaken by major theft of explosives from warehouses

Monday, August 9, 2004

CAIRO A massive supply of explosives stolen from Egyptian warehouses last week could have found its way to either Al Qaida or Palestinian terrorists.

Egyptian security sources confirmed that a large amount of explosives was stolen from a warehouse of an oil company in the Western Desert near the Mediterranean coast. The sources said authorities have conducted an intensive investigation and detained hundreds of employees and guards of the company.

The Egyptian government has not announced the theft.

The sources said authorities were concerned that the explosives were stolen to fulfill an order by Islamic or Palestinian insurgents. They did not rule out that some of the explosives could be headed for the Gaza Strip.

Another scenario was that the explosives would be used for a major Al Qaida-inspired attack in either Egypt or another North African ally of the United States. Over the last year, Egypt has arrested hundreds of Islamic suspects connected to the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Qaida-inspired groups.

On Aug. 4, the opposition Egyptian Al Ahali daily quoted a security source as saying that 1,062 pieces of explosives went missing from an unidentified foreign oil exploration company in Marsa Matrouh northeast of Cairo. The newspaper said the explosives could be detonated by remote control, So far, 1,000 people, including guards and employees of the company as well as local residents, were arrested, Al Ahali reported.

Later, security sources confirmed some details of the Al Ahali report. But they said about half of the amount reported by Al Ahali was stolen. They also said the explosives were owned by Al Salam Petrol Services in Marsa Matrouh, about 500 kilometers northwest of Cairo.

About 100 pieces of explosives were found, the sources said. So far, none of the thieves were captured, they said.

Egypt has been cited as a leading source of weapons and explosives to the Palestinian insurgency in the Gaza Strip. Western diplomatic sources said a large amount of Cobra rocket-propelled grenade launchers was stolen from Egypt's state-owned defense industry and smuggled to the Gaza Strip.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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