Cairo, AP—Egyptian authorities produced on Thursday what they said was a confession by the son of a top member of the Muslim Brotherhood, trying to bolster accusations that the Islamist group has links to Al-Qaeda-inspired militants who have claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on police and other targets in recent months.
The country’s Interior Minister aired the recording said to be a young Yahia Mongi, son of a Brotherhood lawmaker, in which he says he joined the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem group, that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of a police station last month.
The charge that the Brotherhood has links to Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis is central to the government’s case for labeling the Brotherhood, the group from which ousted President Mohamed Mursi hails, as a terrorist organization. The confession is the first purported piece of hard evidence produced by authorities to make the link.
Human rights advocates say that police frequently use torture and other means of coercion to produce confessions, relying on them in lieu of other evidence to convict defendants in both ordinary criminal and security trials.
Since Mursi’s ouster, suicide bombings, ambushes and drive-by shootings by suspected Islamic militants have escalated. They have mainly targeted security forces and troops in the Sinai Peninsula, but they have also spread to Cairo and other parts of the country. The deadliest bombing yet was on December 24, when a suicide car bomber hit a security headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, killing 16 people, almost all policemen.
The announcement came shortly after an Egyptian court set January 28 as date for a new trial of Mursi, who along with 130 other defendants is charged with orchestrating a 2011 jailbreak with the help of foreign militants. This is the third set of charges against Mursi.
The Brotherhood denies that it practises violence and accuses police of plotting the attacks to find a pretext for a heavier crackdown on its members.
In a lengthy press conference, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim aired what he said was Mongi’s confession. Ibrahim said Mongi’s role was surveillance and host the group’s leader.
He listed names of Muslim Brotherhood members alleged to have crossed to the Gaza Strip and received training from militants from Hamas, which rules the territory. When they returned to Egypt, the minister said, they carried out a number of other attacks including shooting anti-Islamist protesters.
After the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, Ibrahim said the group “expanded their base across the country, and sought to strike alliances with extremist factions to use their elements in executing antagonistic plots.”
He added that the group “opened channels” with Hamas, which allegedly provided “logistical support” training and developed technology such as devices to jam planes’ detection systems.
He did not provide any evidence for the claims of training. The Brotherhood does have longstanding ties with its offshoot Hamas, and did ally politically with more radical groups during Mursi’s time in office, including some ex-militants in groups that attacked police, Christians, and others in the 1990s.
According to military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, who led the July coup against Mursi, the Brotherhood’s deputy leader Khairat El-Shater threatened during Mursi’s final days in office that removing the president would prompt militants to take up arms against the state.
Since Mursi’s ouster, the military-backed interim government has cracked down hard on the group. It has arrested and charged its leaders, freezing members’ resources, and clamping down on its social network that helped it secure grassroots support and dominate every election that Egypt held since its 2011 uprising, including the presidential vote that Mursi won in 2012. Its leaders face a raft of charges, many punishable by death. And hundreds of its supporters were killed in a bloody crackdown on a protest camp.
Among its latest measures, a judicial official said Thursday that a government inventory committee decided to confiscate the assets of an additional 152 Muslim Brotherhood businessmen, bringing the total number of the group’s members and allies whose assets have been seized to more than 800.
The same committee also confiscated assets of more than 1,000 non-government organizations for allegedly having links with the Brotherhood, and tightened control over scores of schools owned or run by the group.
Meanwhile, the Cairo Appeals Court announced on Thursday that it set January 28 for Mursi’s trial along with 130 others, including 22 still on the run. Among the defendants, more than 70 of them are Palestinians and two are Lebanese, as well as top Brotherhood figures such as the group’s spiritual guide, Mohammed Badie.
Symbolically, the trial date falls on the third anniversary of the day after which Mursi and more than 30 others from his Muslim Brotherhood group, who were jailed at the time, escaped from the Egyptian prison of Wadi Al-Natroun. They were some of the more than 20,000 inmates who fled from prisons across Egypt, including members of foreign militant groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian militant Hamas.
The prison breaks—which remain one of the mysteries of the 2011 uprising—came as Mubarak’s security apparatus collapsed.
The other charges against Mursi range from conspiring with foreign groups, to inciting violence that led to the killings of protesters during his year in power.
Authorities claim the jailbreaks were part of an organized effort to destabilize Egypt. The investigation into the case started in April, and prosecutors said it showed the Brotherhood had plotted with foreign groups to “destroy the Egyptian state and its institutions.”
According to the prosecution, the Brotherhood allegedly recruited about 800 militants from the neighboring Hamas-run Gaza Strip to attack police stations and at least three prisons in Egypt, breaking out thousands of prisoners and killing police officers and inmates.
Rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the chaotic events, saying they hold the police responsible for the pandemonium around the jailbreaks.
Mursi was Egypt’s first freely elected president. The military toppled him in a coup that followed demonstrations by millions calling for him to leave office.