Egypt Brotherhood leaders accused of terrorism
Egypt Brotherhood leaders accused of terrorism
Thursday, February 11,2010 21:27

Senior Egyptian Islamists arrested early this week are accused of forming militant cells, newspapers reported on Thursday, while Human Rights Watch called the arrests a blow to free elections.

Egyptian police arrested Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Mahmud Ezzat and three members of the opposition group's politburo on Monday, along with 13 activists.

The daily Shorouk reported the group was accused of forming "secret terrorist groups" in the provinces and plotting to overthrow the government to establish an Islamic state.

The interior ministry was not immediately available for comment.

The Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, but is tolerated, and police regularly arrest its activists.

This week's arrests netted the most senior members since a crackdown in 2005 and 2006, which also targeted Ezzat, then secretary general, as well as one of the group's four deputy leaders, Khairat el-Shater, who is still imprisoned.

Despite the ban, the Brotherhood controls a fifth of seats in parliament after it fielded candidates as independents in a 2005 election.

The Brotherhood says the arrests aim at squeezing the group ahead of upper house elections in April and lower house elections in October.

In a statement on Wednesday, the international rights group Human Rights Watch said the arrests boded "ill for the election year ahead."

"The arrest and detention of senior members of Egypt's most powerful opposition party strikes a blow at hopes for genuinely free elections," the statement quoted Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson as saying.

Police rounded up hundreds of Brotherhood activists last year. The group, founded in 1928, has renounced violence and says it wants to establish an Islamic state through peaceful means.

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