World News

Palestinian tunnellers were Army of Islam: police

ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Three Palestinians caught entering Egypt through a tunnel from Gaza this month are members of an al Qaeda-inspired group who planned to enter Israel to carry out suicide attacks, police sources said on Tuesday.

The sources said the men told police they were from the Palestinian group Army of Islam, which kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza in March and took part in the abduction of an Israeli soldier last year.

One of the three men was caught wearing explosives around his waist and the group also had other explosives and hand grenades, the sources said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The sources named the men as Ibrahim Ahmed, 42, Hassaan Youssef, 21, and Khaled Essam, 22. They were in contact with an Egyptian driver who was going to drive them to the central section of the Egyptian-Israeli border, they added.

Police had advance warning of their plan and detained them on October 16 as they were coming out of a tunnel on the Egyptian side of the Gaza border. A fourth man was able to crawl back through the tunnel, they said.

The tunnel, in the Rafah area about six km (four miles) from the Mediterranean, was 950 meters long.

The Egyptian authorities publicize their activities against smuggling and illegal crossings of the border with Gaza following repeated Israeli complaints that they are not doing enough to prevent arms and explosives reaching the Palestinians.

Gaza has been under the control of the Islamist movement Hamas since June, when Hamas drove out the Fatah movement favored by Israel, Egypt and the United States.

The Egyptian government says it is doing its best with the personnel it is allowed to deploy there under the 1979 peace treaty and a subsequent agreement with Israel.