US plane bearing indicted foreign NGO workers to depart Cairo 'soon': Source

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 1 Mar 2012

Airport source tells Ahram Online that US military plane that arrived in Cairo on Wednesday was almost ready for takeoff - with indicted foreign NGO workers on board

file photo, workers from a non-governmental organization National Democratic Institute, or NDI, wait as Egyptian officials raid their office in Cairo (Photo: AP)

A US military airplane that landed in Cairo on Wednesday to repatriate a handful of American NGO workers will leave Egypt en route to the US "soon," according to a source at Cairo International Airport. The source also confirmed that 17 foreign workers arrived Thursday evening to the airport in five vehicles belonging to the US embassy.

The plane, the same source added, which arrived in Egypt from Cyprus, has a maximum capacity of some 20 passengers.

Sixteen US nationals, along with a number of other foreign and Egyptian civil society workers, have been charged by Egyptian authorities with operating in the country without official permission. Some Egyptian officials have gone so far as to accuse them of posing a threat to Egypt's national security.

On Wednesday, the plane requested permission to land in Cairo without prior knowledge of Egyptian airport authorities, according to the airport source, prompting Egyptian military intelligence to take over the file.

A travel ban placed on the foreign NGO workers, including seven Americans, in late January was lifted on Wednesday, reportedly upon the request of the defendants' legal team.

A former official in Egypt's general intelligence apparatus familiar with the case told Ahram Online that a "settlement" of the issue had been reached between Cairo and Washington within the last 24 hours. "Egypt's ruling military council ended up dealing with the case as a political, rather than legal, issue," he said.

The former official went on to say that, during closed-door talks between Cairo and Washington, Egyptian officials had demanded that a number of Egyptians languishing in US prisons – including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, popularly known as the "blind sheikh," and Egyptian detainees held at the Guantanamo military prison – be released.

Abdel Rahman, considered the spiritual leader of Egypt's Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, was sentenced by a US court to life imprisonment in 1996 for his alleged role in the 1993 World Trade Centre attack in New York City. Abdel Rahman's family in Egypt has long called for the sheik's release from prison in the US and his repatriation to Egypt. 

The former intelligence official, however, said the US reaction to the Egyptian demands still remained unclear. 

In a telephone interview with Ahram Online, Abdel Rahman Omar Abdel Rahman, son of the blind sheikh, said he was not aware of any new developments in his father’s case.

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