CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian police arrested the main English-language spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday along with other senior members of the group, all charged with inciting violence, state media and a security official said.
Gehad el-Haddad had emerged has one of the group's most well-known faces, appearing regularly in foreign media to defend the Brotherhood's policies during Mohammed Morsi's year as president and following Morsi's July 3 ouster by the military. His father, Essam el-Haddad, was a senior foreign policy aid to Morsi and has been in detention with Morsi since the coup.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki criticized the arrest as politically motivated, saying "we are opposed to all politicized arrests, of course including this one, and detention, and remain focused on encouraging the interim government to move forward on an inclusive process that brings representatives from all sides."
Several thousand Brotherhood members and other Islamist backers of Morsi have been arrested in the past month, with more than 2,000 being held pending prosecution. The crackdown has detained most of the Brotherhood's senior leaders, as well as key midlevel operators who are in charge of organizing and financing the group's activities. At least two top-level leaders, wanted by authorities remain fugitives.
El-Haddad was arrested in a police raid on two apartments in the Cairo district of Nasr City that also detained five other senior Brotherhood figures. Among them were the Morsi-era governor of Qalioubiya province, a former lawmaker, and a member of the Guidance Bureau, the top executive body of the Brotherhood made up of dozens of members, many of whom are already in custody, according to state media and the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
El-Haddad was one of the Brotherhood's prolific spokesmen. After millions took to the streets demanding Morsi's removal and the army ousted him, el-Haddad spoke for the group from the main pro-Morsi sit-in outside a mosque in Nasr City. After the army violently broke up the sit-in on Aug. 14, he went into hiding, but continued to criticize the coup and the heavy-handed crackdown that followed, leaving more than 1,000 dead over several days.
El-Haddad was one of the group's hard-line voices, refusing any negotiations with the new authorities.
In recent days, it had become more difficult reaching el-Haddad, and email was his preferred mode of communication. After the arrest of most of the group's leadership, he increasingly started to also address the Arabic speaking media. In one of his last English tweets, el-Haddad wrote on Sept. 12, "military coup tried 2 quiet chants of hope echoing from (the sit-in) by force, it rippled them to all corners of world."
The crackdown has impacted the group's ability to organize rallies and communicate with its supporters. After weeks of huge protests, Brotherhood and Morsi supporters maintain scattered and small protests in different neighborhoods in Cairo and other cities.
Since Morsi's ouster, violence against security and government buildings in Cairo, the country's south and the restive northern Sinai region has spiked. Authorities blame it on the Brotherhood and Morsi's supporters, saying they are seeking to destabilize the new government. The Brotherhood denies the charges.
The security official said el-Haddad and others arrested with him were detained on charges of inciting violence. The official said documents were seized with el-Haddad and are currently being investigated.
Also Tuesday, in another crackdown on the group, a Cairo court approved an order to freeze the assets of top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and a former Islamic militant group.
The decision follows a request made in July by Egypt's chief prosecutor after Morsi's ouster. Prosecutor Hesham Barakat wanted the assets frozen pending investigation into violent incidents in which Brotherhood members and other Islamists were accused.
Egypt's state news agency MENA reported the Cairo Criminal Court on Tuesday approved the request to "temporarily" freeze financial assets of Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and 12 other leading Islamists. Most of those listed are already in detention, facing trial mostly on charges of inciting violence and murder.
Associate Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report from Washington