CAIRO, Egypt, (AP) -An Egyptian accused of spying for Israel praised the Jewish state for its advanced technology on Tuesday and claimed documents he passed on were so outdated they posed no threat to Egypt’s security.
Mohammed Sayed Saber, 35, a nuclear engineer with Egypt’s atomic agency, has been charged with stealing secret documents and giving them to the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, in exchange for $17,000, and with the aim to harm Egyptian national security, the prosecutor said.
An upbeat Saber appeared before the judge in a white prison jumpsuit at the start of his trial Tuesday, flashing a victory sign to media crammed into the dusty Cairo courtroom.
“I don’t hide my admiration of Israel … It has reached a very high technological and scientific level,” Saber said. “To seek to benefit from Israel scientific expertise, is not shameful or wrong … They are a very organized and pragmatic society with definite goals, unlike chaotic societies.”
“I don’t have animosity toward the Israeli people — why should I? The fact that we had wars against Israel doesn’t mean that we remain enemies forever,” added Saber, who has never visited the Jewish state.
Saber, whose pro-Israeli remarks were highly unusual for an Egyptian court setting, spoke before Judge Mohammed Reda Shwakat, who presided over a three-judge panel. The judge called him up from the defendant’s cage to the bench where he questioned Saber for almost four hours as three defense lawyers watched.
The hearings were adjourned until June 9. Saber, who faces up to 25 years in prison, did not enter a plea Tuesday.
According to prosecutors, one Japanese and one Irish national are also wanted in the case and are being tried in absentia. Saber was arrested Feb. 18 after returning to Egypt from Hong Kong, where the prosecution said he met with Israeli agents.
Israel has dismissed allegations of Saber working for the Mossad.
Saber said he was contacted more than a year ago by what he thought was a Japanese multinational firm to which he gave “old and invaluable documents that don’t present danger to Egyptian national interests.”
But Saber said he grew suspicious, and in February, told the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he worked while on sabbatical from the atomic agency since 2000, about his actions.
In 1999, Saber allegedly asked the Israeli embassy in Cairo for a grant to pursue a doctorate in nuclear science. Egyptian intelligence told him not to go to the embassy again.
“I’m innocent, I didn’t do anything that would harm my country, God knows that,” Saber told media during a break.
In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but relations have always remained cool at best. Egypt has announced several spying cases since then, latest of which an Egyptian-Canadian man was convicted to 15 years for espionage for Israel last month.