Cairo - Egypt's Interior Ministry made headlines here almost two years ago when it announced the arrest of 22 men and accused them of a string of spectacular plots, including attacking pipe lines, tourists and Christian clerics.
But that was also the last time the public heard about the so-called "Victorious Sect" extremist group, the prosecution quietly decided not to take the case to court.
In a report released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Egyptian government of arresting the men without ever having real evidence against them and instead tortured them and forced them to make false confessions.
"Beyond coerced confessions, there appears to be no compelling evidence to support the government's dramatic claims. Indeed, it appears that the SSI (state security) may have fabricated the allegations made against at least some and possibly all of the them," the report said.
During its investigation, HRW found that the 22 men, who were between the ages of 19 and 31 at the time of their arrest, were detained in February and March 2006. During their arrest, they were subjected to beatings and electrocution and forced to make "confessions" while being held incommunicado at various state security facilities in Cairo, the group said.
But the case took an unusual turn later that year, when the state security prosecution ordered their release and decided not to take them to court. Though 12 have been set free, 10 of the men still remain in custody after new detention orders were obtained, HRW said.
Families and attorneys told HRW they believed the men were targeted because they were devout Muslims and authorities could use their religiousness as "proof of more suspicious activity," according to the report.
For the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed former prisoners who were held with the 22 men, some family members and attorneys. It also obtained an account of one of the detainees' experiences.
None of the men who were released would speak to the rights group because they feared further harassment by state security and were afraid for the men still in custody, HRW said.
The report comes as Egypt is facing increased scrutiny over allegations of widespread police torture. In November, a court sentenced two police officers to three years in prison for sodomising a bus driver in a high-profile case that caused national uproar after a cellphone video of the officers sexually abusing the victim was leaked to bloggers and appeared on the popular video-sharing website YouTube.