BEIRUT: A member of a Hezbollah cell convicted of plotting attacks on Egyptian soil returned to Lebanon Thursday following his escape from prison in Egypt amid continued mass demonstrations, sources close to the party told The Daily Star.
Sources said that the cell’s alleged ringleader and Lebanese national Mohammad Yousef Mansur, alias Sami Shebab, had returned to Beirut Thursday evening after fleeing Egypt during a mass prison break over the weekend across Egypt’s crisis-stricken capital.
Earlier, Hezbollah politburo member Mahmoud Qamati told the media that Mansur was “safe” after his successful escape.
An Egyptian security official told AFP in Cairo that 22 Hezbollah members, along with individuals belonging to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, fled prisons across Cairo following a mass desertion by security guards manning Egypt’s jail facilities.
The official, who spoke anonymously, added that the Hezbollah cell had escaped Sunday from Wadi Natrun prison, north of Cairo.
Members of the cell – mainly Egyptian nationals – were found guilty in April 2010 of planning strikes against ships in the Suez Canal and on Egyptian tourist sites. Defense lawyers at the time claimed the trial and heavy verdicts were politically motivated.
Hezbollah secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in 2009 denied that Hezbollah members had sought to launch attacks outside of Lebanon, claiming that individuals from the party, including Mansur, had been participating in “a logistical mission” to transport arms and other supplies across the Egyptian-Gaza border in order to assist Palestinian factions.
Nasrallah had previously called on Egyptians to protest – and for army officers to resign – over the government’s refusal to open its border with Gaza during Israel’s 2009 Cast Lead onslaught.
The trial of the men was delayed for several months following the arrests of cell members between late 2008 and January 2009. A lawyer with access to case information told The Daily Star last February that Egyptian authorities had lacked necessary evidence to convict the men but were pursuing prosecution in order to “make the government look good.”
Legal representatives of Mansur acknowledged during the trial that their client had proposed attacks against Israeli targets in Egypt in retaliation for the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh, but said that senior party officials had rejected the idea.
Violence has swept once-peaceful protests in Egypt, with pro- and anti-government demonstrators clashing. Hundreds of prisoners have escaped from Egypt’s prisons as levels of security have plummeted in recent days.