In this July 13, 2012 file photo, then Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks to reporters at the presidential palace in Cairo. / Maya Alleruzzo, AP
CAIRO (AP) - Egyptian authorities produced on Thursday what they said was a confession by the son of a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, trying to bolster accusations that the Islamist group has links to al-Qaeda-inspired militants who have claimed deadly attacks in recent months.
The county's Interior Minister aired the recording said to be Yahia Mongi, son of a Brotherhood lawmaker, in which he says he joined the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis or Champions of Jerusalem group that took responsibility for a suicide bombing of a provincial security headquarters last month and other attacks.
The charge that the Brotherhood has links to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is central to the government's case for labeling the group, from which ousted President Mohammed Morsi 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 Morsi's ouster, attacks by suspected Islamic militants have escalated. They have mainly targeted security forces and troops in the Sinai Peninsula, but have also spread to Cairo and other parts of the country. The deadliest bombing yet was on Dec. 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 Jan. 28 as the date for a new trial of Morsi, 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 Morsi.
The Brotherhood denies that it practices 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 it said was Mongi's confession. Ibrahim said Mongi's role was surveillance and hosting 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 autocratic 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 Morsi'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 Morsi, the Brotherhood's deputy leader Khairat el-Shater threatened during Morsi's final days in office that removing the president would prompt militants to take up arms against the state.
The military overthrew Morsi after millions took to the streets demanding he step down.
Since then, the military-backed interim government has cracked down hard on the group. It has arrested its leaders, frozen members' resources and targeted 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 Morsi won in 2012. Its leaders face a long list of charges, many punishable by death. And hundreds of its supporters were killed in a bloody crackdown on a protest camp and in street demonstrations.
In the latest reported violence, two protesters were killed in late Wednesday clashes between police and pro-Brotherhood demonstrators in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, a security official said. He spoke anonymously as he was not authorized to talk to media.
Among the government's 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 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.
Secular-leaning activists have also been caught up in the government crackdown on dissidents. On Thursday, seven were sentenced to two years in prison primarily for violating a protest law that heavily restricts the right to hold a demonstration.
Meanwhile, a Cairo Appeals Court announced on Thursday that it set Jan. 28 as the date for Morsi's trial 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 on which Morsi and more than 30 others from his Muslim Brotherhood group, who were jailed at the time, escaped from Wadi al-Natroun prison. They were some of the more than 20,000 inmates who fled from prisons across Egypt, including members of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian 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 Morsi 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. According to the prosecution, the Brotherhood allegedly recruited about 800 militants from Gaza to attack police stations and at least three prisons in Egypt, breaking out 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.
In Alexandria, meanwhile, a court sentenced seven activists to two years in prison on several charges including protesting without a permit and clashing with police last month. Out of the seven, three were tried in absentia.
The defendants included two prominent names in Egypt's youth movement, Hassan Mustafa and Maheinour al-Masri.
The activists were arrested on Dec. 2 while demonstrating during the retrial of two policemen accused in the killing of Khalid Said. Said, beaten to death in June 2010, became a rallying call of Egypt's 2011 uprising.
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