Mohammed el-Attar, 26, is accompanied by police officers while leaving the opening session of his trial in Cairo on Saturday. ((Amr Nabil/Associated Press))

An Egyptian-Canadian charged with spying for Israel pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial on Saturday and claimed he had confessed under duress, a court official said.

As he entered his plea, Mohammed Essam Ghoneim el-Attar, who is a dual citizen of Egypt and Canada,said he had confessed to prosecutors only because he was tortured by security officers.

El-Attar appeared clean-shaven and worea white prison outfit as he was brought to court in Cairo.

There was norepresentation from the Canadian Embassy, but he did have a new lawyer, who took on the role shortly before the trial began.

The lawyer he had initially hireddropped the case a few weeks ago, saying from what he had read in the confessions, published inindependent and government newspapers in Egypt, he believedel-Attar was a traitor and that he could not win hiscase.

El-Attar was arrestedat Cairo's International Airporton Jan. 1.Egyptian authoritiesallege thathe moved to Canada in 2003 to spy on people of Egyptian and Arab descent.

Both the Israeli public security minister and Israeli ambassador to Canada said earlier this monththatthe allegations against el-Attar are not true.

Three Israelis, who were charged alongside him,remain at large and are being tried in absentia. If convicted, el-Attar and his co-defendants face a maximum life sentence, with hard labour.

After el-Attar's appearance Saturday at the State Security Emergency Court, the judge adjourned the hearings until Wednesday.

With files from the Associated Press