Egyptian police arrested a leading member of an armed Islamist group suspected of involvement in pipeline bombings that have disrupted gas supplies to Israel and Jordan, Egypt's state news agency reported.
The pipeline in the desert peninsula of Sinai was attacked on Thursday for the seventh time this year. The authorities have struggled to maintain full control over Sinai, especially since state security was disrupted by the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Mohamed al-Teehi of the armed Islamist group Al-Takfir Wa Al-Hijra (Excommunication and Exodus) was arrested in the northern coastal city of al-Arish, news agency MENA reported.
Authorities see him as the mastermind behind attacks on police stations in the city and he has topped a government "wanted" list, MENA said. It did not say if Teehi was involved in Thursday's bombing. Some residents of al-Arish confirmed that Teehi belongs to a "well-known religious current" but said he cannot move because of a car accident which fractured his pelvis, MENA added.
Egyptian officials say limits on troop numbers in Sinai under a 1979 peace treaty with Israel make it harder to secure the area, which local Bedouin say has been neglected for decades. Some have taken to smuggling and gun-running to scrape a living. Egypt's 20-year gas deal with Israel, signed in the Mubarak era, is unpopular with the Egyptian public. Critics argue that the Jewish state was not paying enough for the gas.
Previous explosions have closed the pipeline, run by Gasco, Egypt's gas transport company, a subsidiary of the national gas company EGAS, for weeks. The armed forces launched a security sweep in August to root out suspected Islamist gangs and, according to security sources at the time, captured four Islamist militants as they prepared to blow up the pipeline in al-Arish.