Egypt's prosecutor general on Sunday officially charged 26 suspects, including two Lebanese and five Palestinians, for spying for the militant group Hezbollah, as well as plotting terrorist attacks and aiding militants in the Gaza strip.
Egyptian security officials had been tracking the case, now known in the press as "the Hezbollah Cell," since April when they said they uncovered plots Hezbollah plots to destabilize Egypt.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah at the time rejected the accusations of intending to harm Egypt's security, but did admit to sending an agent to supervise weapon shipments to Hamas in Gaza.
Prosecutor Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud referred the suspects, who also include a Sudanese, to trial in the State Security Emergency Court, a special tribunal where trials are swift and verdicts cannot be appealed.
He also called for the immediate arrest of senior Hezbollah official, Mohammed Qabalan, and three Egyptians who are all still large.
A Hezbollah spokesman, contacted by The Associated Press, declined to comment and a Lebanese judicial official said that Lebanese authorities have not yet received any formal Egyptian request for Qabalan's arrest or extradition.
A date for the trial has not yet been set.
Charges punishable by death
The suspects' lawyer, Montasser al-Zayat, said the espionage charges can be punishable by death.
The prosecutor Mahmoud said 18 of the suspects were providing Hezbollah with information since 2005 about Suez Canal schedules, security details as well as information about tourist destinations in Sinai and their travel routes.
The suspects included two working in the Suez Canal shipping industry and Egyptians living on the border with Gaza.
The Lebanese in the group, the statement said, provided the cell with money and technical expertise to collect information and acquire explosives "for activities to destabilize security and public order." Egypt's official state news agency, quoting the investigation records, said Qabalan disbursed $38,000 to Egyptian operatives, largely to buy explosives and hide them in Sinai.
At least three of the suspects were also charged with digging tunnels under Egypt's border with Gaza with the intention of smuggling people and goods. Others are charged with providing safehouses for militants smuggled across the border.
This is the first time Egypt has charged people involved in the smuggling trade with Gaza. Israel has long complained that Egypt is not doing enough to stop weapons and people smuggling through the tunnels and in the past year there has been an increased efforts by Egyptian security on the border.
Since the Islamic militant group Hamas wrestled control of Gaza from rival Palestinian faction Fatah, Egypt and Israel have imposed an economic and travel lockdown on the seaside territory.
Although Egypt has allowed in a trickle of mostly medical aid, the tunnels have been the main economic lifeline for Gazans.
Egypt's state security prosecutors also accused five members of its own outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group of belonging to the "Hezbollah Cell." The Brotherhood had expressed support for Hezbollah's proclaimed assistance to the Gaza, saying it is the duty of Muslims to help the Palestinians fight Israel.