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Egypt Holds 4 Britons Suspected of Ties to Extremists - 2002-04-21

Four British men are among more than 50 people detained in Egypt this month on suspicion of having ties to a banned extremist group.

A British Embassy official says high-level discussions are taking place with Egyptian officials to find out what charges the four men may face. British officials have visited the detainees and say they are staying in contact with their families. The embassy says the four were detained April 1.

The embassy official said two of the men, Reza Pankhurst and Ian Malcom Nisbett, were detained in Cairo, while Maajid Nawaz and Hassan Rizfi were taken into custody in Alexandria.

The Britons were among 54 people detained this month in Egypt. Egyptian authorities say they belong to the Islamic Liberation Party, an outlawed militant group that aims to "undermine state institutions."

The Islamic Liberation Party was founded 48 years ago in Egypt, said Hala Mustafa, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism at the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "The Liberation Party was founded in 1954 by Sheikh Taki el-Din el Nabahani. He is a Palestinian cleric with a Jordanian nationality," Ms. Mustafa explained. "You can consider it the first militant Islamic party among the Islamic organizations."

Ms. Mustafa says the Islamic Liberation Party was the first Islamic organization to call for a Jihad, or holy war, during the 1970s. She says, while the group has been greatly diminished, it still has branches throughout the Arab world, in Europe and in the United States.

Essam el-Eryan is a former member of the Egyptian parliament. He says the Islamic Liberation Party poses little threat. "I think it is a marginal group. It is a not effective group at all," he said, "and I hope that the Islamaphobia that extended in the West will not extend here in our country, because it will make the matters more difficult for all the governments and the people and the Islamic groups."

Egyptian government sources say the four British detainees could be charged and tried in a military court.