CAIRO, Egypt, (AP) -Police arrested the main financier and strategist of Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood opposition group Thursday, security and group officials said.
The Brotherhood said police also swept up nearly 200 of the group’s supporters, acting a few days after student Brotherhood members caused an uproar by wearing black, militia-style uniforms during a Sunday demonstration at Al-Azhar University outside of Cairo.
Mohammed Khayrat el-Shater, 55, was taken from his home early Thursday, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the press.
The Brotherhood said police also arrested more than 180 students and university members including el-Shater’s son-in-law. Security officials did not immediately confirm those arrests.
El-Shater joined the Brotherhood in 1974 and has been imprisoned four times, for a total of seven years behind bars, on charges relating to his membership in the group.
Police said they have opened an investigation into whether the group was setting up a military wing, something the Brotherhood denied. The group has stressed that the students wore militia-style uniforms on their own initiative, without coordination with top leaders.
The Brotherhood is outlawed in Egypt and hundreds of its members have been arrested over the past year.
But it also is Egypt’s largest opposition group, and won 88 of parliament’s 454 seats in elections a year ago, with its candidates running as independents.
The group, which was founded in 1928, established a military wing during the 1948 Middle East war to fight against Jewish forces setting up the state of Israel. The militia also fought the British army, which stayed in Egypt until 1956, and was accused of attempting to assassinate former President Gamal Abdel-Nasser.
Egypt officially banned it in 1954 and has accused it of aiming to set up an Islamic government.
The group renounced violence in the 1970s and in recent months has been increasing its influence in powerful trade unions and challenging President Hosni Mubarak’s administration in parliament.