CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's criminal investigation against the ousted president, announced Friday, is likely just the start of wider legal moves against Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood — ominous prospects for a country seething with violent divisions.
During Morsi's three weeks in secret detention, military intelligence agents have extensively questioned him on the inner workings of his presidency and of the Brotherhood, seeking to prove he committed crimes including handing state secrets to the Islamist group, military officials told The Associated Press.
Military intelligence has had sole access to him and has questioned him at least once a day, sometimes for up to five hours, the officials said. At times they have presented him voice recordings of his conversations to question him on them, they said.
Throughout, Morsi has been denied access to television and newspapers, they said. He has been moved at least three times between Defense Ministry facilities in armored vehicles under heavy guard. He is currently in a facility outside Cairo, they said, without elaborating.
The military appears not to have decided yet what to do with the information it is gathering. But the officials said it could be used to fuel the civilian prosecution already underway, indict other Brotherhood figures or to justify a more dramatic move: renewing the ban on the Muslim Brotherhood itself.
The group was banned for decades, but became legal after Mubarak's fall and was widely seen as the real power and decision-maker behind Morsi during his year in office. Morsi and the group denied it played any role.
"We allowed Hosni Mubarak to be put on trial and he is one of our own, so there is nothing to stop us from doing this," said one military official familiar with the thinking of the military leadership. Mubarak was a career air force officer touted as a war hero before he became president in 1981. After his 2011 ouster, he was put on trial for complicity in killing protesters.
Since army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi removed Morsi on July 3, Egypt's first freely elected president has been held incommunicado by the military. Six well placed military and security officials, including two in military intelligence, spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the closed-door questioning.
On Friday, civilian prosecutors announced they had launched an investigation into Morsi on charges of murder and conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas. At the heart of the case are allegations that Morsi and the Brotherhood worked with Hamas to carry out an attack on a prison that broke Morsi and around 30 other members of the group out of detention during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak. The attack killed 14 inmates.
The investigation is the first step toward an indictment and possible trial on the charges, which are punishable by death. Prosecutors ordered Morsi detained for 15 days pending the completion of the investigation and security officials late Friday said he was likely to be moved shortly to a civilian, high-security prison south of Cairo.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Brotherhood and Hamas deny the charges, calling them politically motivated. Morsi and the Brotherhood figures freed with him have said local residents attacked the Wadi el-Natroun prison to free their own relatives and that they escaped amid the chaos.
The move to prosecute Morsi shows the "bankruptcy of the leaders of the bloody coup," Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref said in a statement. Egyptians, he added, will reject "the return of the dictatorial police state and all the repression, tyranny and theft it entails."
But the accounts of Morsi's interrogations suggest the military has a more ambitious aim to cripple the 85-year-old Brotherhood.
A move to ban the group again would likely bring a backlash from Islamists.
One senior Brotherhood official, Mohammed el-Beltagy, sought to belittle the significance of such a move.
"They can dissolve it if they want. They are dissolving the whole country now," he told the AP at the site of the group's main protest sit-in at an eastern Cairo district.
Another Brotherhood figure told AP that the group is fully aware that a new ban "cannot be ruled out." But he warned that the result would be "a tragic phase" that would "end with el-Sissi's fall." He spoke on condition of anonymity because the group had not authorized him to discuss the implications of a ban.
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