Egypt: Forces arrest journalist after report on officials aboard seized plane in Zambia

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Forces arrested Karim Assaad after reporting on identity of several officials allegedly aboard plane seized in Zambia carrying millions of dollars in cash, gold and weapons

Egyptian security forces detained a local journalist who had covered a breaking news story allegedly involving five Egyptian officials aboard a private plane seized by Zambian authorities earlier this week.

Forces arrested Karim Assaad overnight Friday from his home in al-Shorouk, a satellite city in the eastern area of Cairo, Mada Masr news reported

The arrest took place after forces raided his family home, Assaad’s wife told Mada Masr. During the raid, forces assaulted Assaad and his wife and threatened the life of their son, she said. 

The forces also demanded Assaad access Matsada2sh news agency’s accounts – where his reports were published – and delete two articles related to the identity of the Egyptians on the plane seized in Zambia. According to the reports, the plane had been loaded with millions of dollars in cash, gold, and weapons. Details alleged that a Egyptian army major had been aboard the plane, along with several other Egyptian officials. During the raid, Assaad’s wife said forces told them that the news agency did not understand “the seriousness of what they published”. 

The news agency, in a statement posted to Facebook on Sunday, said that its website had also been “subjected to a coordinated attack” by Egyptian authorities. “Simultaneously, our team of investigative journalists is being subjected to a parallel security attack,” the agency said. “We hold the Egyptian authorities responsible for the safety of our team”.

Leaked identities

The names of five Egyptians aboard the chartered plane were initially revealed in a leaked letter apparently sent by their lawyers to Nason Banda, the director general of Zambia’s Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC). The letter states that lawyers are acting on behalf of the named individuals and that they have been held in custody since 13 August.

One of the individuals mentioned in the letter reportedly worked as an assistant military attache with the title of a major at the Egyptian embassy in Washington in 2011 and 2012, according to US State Department archives. Another person named in the letter was a gold trader who owns several jewellery stores in Egypt.

Middle East Eye contacted the Egyptian embassy in Washington for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. The private plane was flown to Zambia’s capital Lusaka from Cairo and seized by Zambian authorities on Tuesday. It was found to contain over $5.69m in cash, 602 suspected gold bars, and five handguns with 126 rounds of ammunition. Ten people aboard the plane – six Egyptians, a Dutchman, a Spaniard, a Latvian, and a Zambian citizen – were arrested pending further investigation. MEE couldn’t independently verify the authenticity of the letter.