updated 4/17/2007 8:19:37 AM ET 2007-04-17T12:19:37

Authorities said Tuesday they have arrested an Egyptian engineer from the country's nuclear energy agency for spying for Israel.

State security prosecutor Hisham Badawi announced that two foreigners, one Japanese and one Irish, were wanted in connection with the case but remained at large.

He identified the Egyptian engineer as Mohammed Sayed Saber and said he was arrested Feb. 18 but that news of his detention were withheld pending the completion of the investigation.

He said Saber, 35, stole "important documents" from the Atomic Energy Agency and passed it on to agents of Israel's Mossad intelligence service in return for $17,000. Saber first met the two foreigners in Hong Kong between 2004 and 2006, Badawi said.

In Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev was skeptical.

"We've heard about this from the media. These sort of charges unfortunately appear all too often in the Egyptian media and they always prove to be baseless," he said.

Operational reactor in 10 years?
Egypt has a small research atomic reactor. It has recently announced plans to develop a nuclear energy program more than 20 years after it abandoned the idea of building a reactor in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Minister of Electricity and Energy Hassan Yunis said this year that Egypt could have an operational nuclear power plant within 10 years. The plan is to build a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant at Al-Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast.

News of Saber's arrest followed the detention in January of Mohammed el-Attar, another Egyptian who also holds Canadian citizenship, on charges of spying for Israel. Three Israelis, who were charged alongside el-Attar, remain at large.

In 2002, an Egyptian court found Sherif al-Filali, an Egyptian engineer, guilty of spying on behalf of Israel, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison with hard labor.

Two years later, Egypt freed an Israeli Arab businessman convicted of spying in exchange for Israel's release of six Egyptian students. Azzam Azzam served eight years in an Egyptian prison before his release.

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