Egyptian security officials have arrested two members of an al-Qaeda-inspired group thought to be behind attacks on a pipeline supplying gas to Israel and Jordan, the official MENA news agency reported Monday.
Abdel Karim Mohammed Ahmed and Ahmed Salem Awad, of the group known as Al-Takfeer wal Hijra, were detained during a sweep in the north Sinai town of el-Arish, a day after one of the group's leading members was held, MENA said.
Another member of the group, Mohammed al-Teehi, was earlier arrested and named as the mastermind of attacks on the gas pipeline and on police stations and installations in North Sinai, a security official said on Sunday.
On Thursday, two explosions hit the pipeline that carries gas through the Sinai Peninsula and on to Jordan and Israel. It had already been attacked six times since former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.
Egyptian authorities have on several occasions announced measures to step up protection of the pipeline and try to arrest those behind the attacks. Army experts have also located and defused a number of other devices targeting the pipeline.
Israel generates 40 per cent of its electricity using natural gas, and Egypt provides 43 per cent of its gas supplies.
The deliveries to Israel, agreed to under Mubarak, have come under heavy criticism in Egypt. Mubarak's government was accused of selling the gas at a low price.
Egypt's Sinai region is particularly sensitive due to tensions with the Bedouin community living there.
Many goods are smuggled to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza through Sinai, which Israel also charges is used as a rear base for militant attacks against its territory.
The military and police launched a sweeping operation in the peninsula in October to uproot militants blamed for the attacks on the pipeline and a police station in El-Arish.