CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian military is investigating whether the Palestinian group Hamas is linked to a batch of confiscated fabric that could have been used to make counterfeit uniforms, a security official said Tuesday.
The official said the probe came alongside other investigations into alleged Hamas activities in Egypt going back to the 2011 uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak and led, over a year later, to the election of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian group's ideological parent.
The announcement follows unconfirmed reports in the Egyptian media that Hamas members orchestrated an August attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula bordering the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Accusations that Hamas has been meddling in Egyptian security matters could damage Morsi's standing. Morsi is perceived by many Egyptians as overly indulgent toward Hamas. His government has already been shaken by a bitter conflict with the opposition and by economic shortages, and the armed forces have been issued thinly veiled warnings that they might return to politics.
Also Tuesday, three people were killed when a soccer game between teenagers in Cairo's crowded Shubra neighborhood turned into a brawl involving knives, witnesses and officials said. Several dozen were wounded and some 50 cars were damaged.
Deadly incidents such as these, often the result of the police force's withdrawal from the streets following the uprising, feed Egyptians' sense of insecurity.
In the Sinai, Egypt's military has been battling an Islamist insurgency that is believed to have links to radical groups in Gaza, and also cracking down on the Bedouin-run smuggling networks used to run weapons and militants, as well as consumer goods, into the Israeli-blockaded coastal territory.
On Sunday, a military spokesman had warned that unnamed parties might impersonate Egyptian troops after the fabric, used for police and army uniforms, was seized near a tunnel running under the Egypt-Gaza border.
"The armed forces are urging the Egyptian masses to watch out, be attentive and alert .... in case of impersonation," said Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali on the military's official Facebook page.
The military, according to the official media, responded to such threats by installing checkpoints, dispatching cement trucks to seal tunnels, and other methods meant to stop the smuggling. Egypt also last week arrested seven Hamas members before releasing them two days later.
However, a security official said that the military is working with its normal capacity and that the media campaign is part of the conflict between the military and Hamas. He also said the Egyptian military believes that Hamas does not have full control over its members and allied militants.
The official said initial investigations revealed that some uniform fabric had already made it to Gaza.
Hamas spokesman in Gaza Sami Abu Zuhri said his group had no connection to the fabric.
"We strongly condemn the continued campaign of lies waged by some Egyptian newspapers and media against Hamas movement," he said.
He condemned the crackdown on the smuggling tunnels, claiming they caused price hikes and a fuel shortage. "The Egyptian army campaign against the ... tunnels now has been causing a lot of damage to the people of Gaza and to their livelihoods," he said.
Hamas has also strongly denied the reports that three members of its military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, were involved in the August attack.
The official spoke anonymously as he wasn't authorized to speak to the press.
AP Correspondent Ibrahim Barzak contributed to this report from Gaza Strip