Egyptian authorities have detained an alleged Israeli agent and are interrogating him on suspicion of spying and trying to influence protesters during the popular uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, a court official and the prosecution spokesman said Sunday.
The prosecution spokesman Adel el-Said said the suspect was arrested Sunday and is interrogated by the state security prosecution. El-Said said the suspect was ordered detained for 15 days for investigation.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he was "totally unfamiliar" with the report.
This was not the first time Egyptian authorities arrest a foreigner on suspicion of spying in the post-Mubarak era, but it was the first reported arrest of an alleged Israeli agent. Last month, Egyptian authorities arrested an Iranian diplomat on suspicion of spying during the popular uprising. The diplomat was later released and left Cairo. He enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
El-Said said the suspect was detained in a Cairo hotel. Intelligence reports showed the man was gathering information about the protests and fomented chaos with the intent "of harming political, economic and social interests and negatively impacting the course of the revolution," el-Said said, according to a statement published on the prosecution's official Facebook page.
The intelligence reports also said the suspect was an Israeli soldier who participated in the 2006 Lebanon war, where he was wounded, the prosecution statement said.
The court official said the alleged Israeli spy entered Egypt and posed as a foreign journalist shortly after the beginning of the protests on Jan. 25. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
He said the investigation showed the suspect spent most of his time in Tahrir square, the center of the uprising, and approached protesters. The official said prosecutors suspect he paid protesters to cause friction with the military and to foment Muslim-Christian tensions. Some protesters reported him to the Egyptian intelligence agency.
The official said the suspect was put under surveillance and was photographed in the low-income neighborhood of Imbaba, where Coptic Christians and Muslims, led by ultraconservative Salafi Muslims, clashed. Fifteen people were killed and a church was set on fire.
During the 18 days of protests that led to Mubarak's departure, activists who were detained by security said they were asked if they were trained by Israel or Iran. Since Mubarak's ouster, Egypt's military rulers have often warned against "foreign" attempts to destabilize the country.
Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979. During Mubarak's reign, the two governments coordinated security policies, but the overall atmosphere was cool.
Since a military council took over from Mubarak, there has been internal pressure to cancel or alter a contract under which Egypt sells natural gas to Israel. Critics charge the price is too low, and Mubarak cronies took bribes to seal the deal.