CAIRO – A court ruling Monday raised the possibility of jailed ex-president Hosni Mubarak walking free soon, a move that would fuel the unrest roiling the country after the autocratic leader's successor was removed in a military coup.
Underscoring the growing anger over Mohammed Morsi's ouster, suspected Islamic militants ambushed two minibuses carrying off-duty policemen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, forcing the men to lie on the sand and shooting 25 of them dead.
"They were marked in advance by the attackers," said Ashraf Abdullah, who heads the police branch the victims belonged to. He said the assailants checked the IDs of the men, who were not in uniform, to ensure they were policemen before opening fire.
The brazen daylight attack raised fears that the strategic desert region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip could be plunged into a full-fledged insurgency.
In a separate development early today, police detained the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails, according to security officials and state television. They said Mohammed Badie was captured in an apartment in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City. That's where Morsi's supporters held a six-week sit-in protest that was cleared by security forces last Wednesday.
The private ONTV network showed footage of a man the network said was Badie after his arrest. In the footage, a somber-looking Badie in an off-white Arab robe, or galabiyah, sits motionless on a sofa as a man in civilian clothes and carrying an assault rifle stands nearby.
Badie and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater, who is in custody, go on trial later this month for their alleged role in the killing of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters in June. His arrest is a serious blow to the group at a time when authorities are cracking down on its leaders and mid-ranking officials, detaining scores of them across the country.
Mubarak, 85, has been in detention since April 2011, two months after he was ousted in a revolution against his rule.
He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to stop the killing of some 900 protesters in the 18-day uprising. His sentence was overturned on appeal and he is now being retried, along with his security chief and six top police commanders.
Two judicial officials said Mubarak could walk free this week or next after a criminal court Monday ordered his release in a corruption case in which he and his two sons were accused of embezzling funds for the maintenance of presidential palaces. His sons were ordered kept in custody.
Monday's ruling, along with the fact that Mubarak had previously been ordered released in the killings of the protesters, opened the possibility of freedom for the former president, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.