Egypt escalated its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday, detaining at least 38 of the group's supporters on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization. The arrests came one day after the Brotherhood was officially declared a terrorist organization by the government.
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Many of the activists were held in the Nile Delta province of Sharkiya on suspicion of "promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood group, distributing its leaflets, and inciting violence against the army and police," the state news agency said.
The government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group on Wednesday in response to a suicide attack a day earlier that killed 16 in the Nile Delta. The Brotherhood condemned the attack and denied that it was responsible, as claimed by the government.
Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif told state TV on Thursday that anyone taking part in Brotherhood protests would be jailed for five years. "The sentence could be death for those who lead this organization," he added.
In a separate development, three jailed Egyptian political activists have started a hunger strike against what they describe as mistreatment in prison, according to a statement on the website of the April 6 protest movement.
A court this month sentenced Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma, to three years imprisonment for protesting without permission and assaulting police. All three were prominent in the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011,
The activists had taken part in demonstrations against a law passed by the interim government in November banning protests without permission from the authorities. The law dealt a major blow to one of the gains of the 2011 revolution.
The statement on the April 6 website said they started the hunger strike on Wednesday, having been denied winter clothes and subjected to psychological abuse by prison staff. The interior ministry denied the prisoners had been treated badly.
Earlier Thursday, a bomb explosion in Cairo wounded five people and a second home-made device was found nearby and dismantled, Latif said. Reacting to the blast, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who led the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July, said the country would be "steadfast" in the face of terrorism."
The government has yet to provide evidence to back up the charge that the Brotherhood staged the Nile Delta attack in Mansoura, north of Cairo, which was claimed by the Sinai-based radical Islamist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has taken responsibility for several other major bombings, including a failed attempt to kill the interior minister in September.