Egypt has arrested the acting leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Interior Ministry said Friday, as part of a long-running crackdown on the banned Islamist group.
“After monitoring his movement for a while,” Mahmoud Ezzat, 76, was found during a raid on an apartment in a Cairo suburb “despite incessant rumors circulated by officials of the Brotherhood about his presence abroad,” a ministry statement said.
The ministry said police searching the apartment discovered a number of encrypted computers and mobile phones used to communicate with Brotherhood members.
Ezzat had previously been sentenced twice in absentia to death, as well as life imprisonment, for charges including espionage and leadership of a terrorist group. Under Egyptian law, those convicted in absentia face retrials after their arrest.
The Interior Ministry statement accused Ezzat of overseeing major terror operations, including the assassination of Egypt’s former public prosecutor in 2015, and a deadly car bombing outside Cairo’s main cancer hospital last summer that killed 20 people.
Considered a terrorist organization by the government, the Muslim Brotherhood has been under increased pressure since the military takeover that forced Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi from power seven years ago.
Morsi, who became the country’s first democratically elected president in 2012, died last year after collapsing in a courtroom while in Egyptian custody. Many of the group’s senior figures, including spiritual leader Mohamed Badie, have been jailed and sentenced to death or life in prison. Others have fled the country and found refuge in Turkey.
Security forces operating under Morsi’s successor, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, have rounded up thousands of perceived Brotherhood supporters under the pretext of combatting terrorism. Human rights campaigners accuse the former army chief of exploiting the country’s state-of-emergency and protest laws to crush dissent.
Human Rights Watch estimated at least 60,000 people have been arrested on political grounds in Egypt during Sisi’s rule.