August 19, 2013

Egypt's Mubarak may be released from prison

By Hamza Hendawi / The Associated Press

CAIRO — Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is on retrial for the killings of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising that led to his ouster, could be released from custody later this week, judicial officials said Monday.

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Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak waves to his supporters from behind bars as he attends a hearing in his retrial on appeal in Cairo in this April 13, 2013, photo.

AP

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The officials said there were no longer any grounds to hold the 85-year-old former autocrat because of the expiration of a two-year legal limit for holding an individual in custody pending a final verdict.

Mubarak has been in detention since April 2011. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in June last year for his failure to stop the killing of some 900 protesters in the 18-day uprising against his rule. His sentence was overturned on appeal and he is now being retried, along with his security chief and six top police commanders.

Monday's stunning announcement came as Islamic militants ambushed two mini-buses carrying off-duty policemen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, forces the men out of the vehicles and made them lie on the ground, then shot 25 of them dead. The brazen daylight attack deepened the turmoil roiling the country and underscored the volatility of the strategic region.

Monday's killings, which took place near the border town of Rafah in northern Sinai, came a day after security forces killed 36 detainees during a riot on a prison-bound truck convoy north of Cairo. In all, nearly 1,000 people have been killed in violence between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi since last Wednesday. The government has ordered an investigation into their deaths.

A few hours after the attack near Rafah, suspected militants shot to death a police major as he stood guard outside a bank in the city of el-Arish, also in northern Sinai, security officials said.

Tensions in Egypt have soared since the army ousted Morsi, Mubarak's successor, in a July 3 coup following days of protests by millions of Egyptians demanding the Islamist president leave and accusing him of abusing his powers.

But Morsi's supporters have fought back, staging demonstrations demanding that he be reinstated and denouncing the military coup.

On Wednesday, the military raided two protest camps of Morsi's supporters in Cairo, killing hundreds of people and triggering the current wave of violence.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the country's military chief, said Sunday that the crackdown, followed by a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew imposed in Cairo and several other flashpoint provinces, is needed to protect the country from "civil war." El-Sissi has vowed the military would stand firm in the face of the rising violence but also called for the inclusion of Islamists in the post-Morsi political process.

Sinai, a strategic region bordering the Gaza Strip and Israel, has seen almost daily attacks since Morsi's ouster — leading many to link the militants there to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails.

Egyptian military and security forces have been engaged in a long-running battle against militants in the northern half of the peninsula.

Al-Qaida-linked fighters, some of whom consider Morsi's Brotherhood to be too moderate, and tribesmen have used the area for smuggling and other criminal activity for years and have on occasion fired rockets into Israel and staged cross-border attacks. A year ago, 16 Egyptian border guards, a branch of the army, were slain in Sinai near the borders with Gaza and Israel in a yet unresolved attack that is widely blamed on militants.

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