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Egypt catches divers cutting internet cable

CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt's naval forces caught three scuba divers officials say were trying to cut an undersea internet cable in the Mediterranean on Wednesday.

In a statement on his official Facebook page, Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali saiddivers were arrested while "cutting the undersea cable" of Egypt's main communications company, Telecom Egypt.

"The armed forces foiled an attempt and arrested three divers while they were cutting a submarine cable," Ali wrote.

The statement, accompanied by a photo of three young men who were apparently Egyptian, said they were captured while on a speeding fishing boat just off the coast of Alexandria. It did not say who they were or why they would want to cut the cable.

Egypt’s internet had been spotty for days, following damage to an undersea cable last week. But after the arrest of three men who allegedly used diving equipment to cut yet another line off the coast of Alexandria, there is speculation that what was initially billed an accident may have been part of a wider plan to take Egypt offline.

According to Agence France-Presse and local press reports, the men have denied the accusations.

They say they were salvaging shipwrecks. Alexandria's security director is quoted by the official state news agency as saying they severed the cable by mistake.

Still, with Egypt’s rising level of insecurity, it isn’t entirely out of the question that such high-level sabotage would take place. Masked gunmen have targeted the vehicle of the Egypt’s central bank director. Earlier this month, the Egypt country boss of Exxon-Mobil was kidnapped in the Sinai Peninsula, but quickly released.

Chief technology officer of US-based Renesys Jim Cowie said cutting an internet cable could cause data to become congested, making it redirect the long way around the world.

This isn't the first incidence of a lost connection due to cut cables. In 2008, serious undersea cable cuts caused internet outages across the Middle East on two separate occasions.

Senior Correspondent Erin Cunningham reported from Cairo. Follow her on Twitter@erinmcunningham.

More from GlobalPost: Is Egypt's military an "enemy of the internet"?

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