Egypt's ex-chief may be released
A court ruled for Hosni Mubarak. Separately, police captured the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme leader.
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 Tuesday, 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 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 in June of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters.
In the midst of last week's clashes, looters made off with a prized 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewelry, and more than 1,000 other artifacts in the biggest theft to hit an Egyptian museum in living memory.
The scale of the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya laid bare the security vacuum that has taken hold in cities outside Cairo, where police have all but disappeared from the streets. It also exposed how bruised and battered the violence has left Egypt.
For days after vandals ransacked the building Wednesday, there were no police or soldiers in sight as groups of teenage boys burned mummies and broke limestone sculptures too heavy for the thieves to carry away. The security situation remained precarious Monday as gunmen atop nearby buildings fired on a police station near the museum.
Despite the violence, Cairo, a bustling metropolis of about 18 million people, began to regain a sense of normalcy Monday, although the capital remained under a state of emergency and a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Daytime traffic was back to its normal congested levels, and stores were open. Government employees returned to work, and the Central Bank ordered banks, which were operating on a reduced 9 a.m.-noon schedule, to remain open for an additional hour Tuesday. A handful of protests erupted in various parts of the city, but they were small and led to no violence.
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 about 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.
There will no longer be any grounds to hold him if a court accepts a petition by his attorney requesting his release in a third case later this week or next.
Many analysts, however, expressed skepticism, saying the political cost of freeing the former leader, who was widely hated for widespread abuses and repression during his 29 years in power, could keep him in jail.