CAIRO — An Egyptian judge referred ousted president Mohamed Morsi for trial on a third set of criminal charges Saturday, intensifying the legal campaign against the Islamist leader and his allies by indicting him and 129 others for breaking out of prison during Egypt’s 2011 revolt.
A statement from the judge’s office said Morsi and fellow inmates from his Muslim Brotherhood group worked in concert with hundreds of militants from the Palestinian militant movement Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to escape from the Wadi el-Natroun prison north of Cairo at the height of the uprising, murdering and abducting policemen and “threatening the unity of the country.”
Judge Hassan Samir, whom the Justice Ministry appointed to investigate the jailbreak three months before Morsi was deposed in a military coup July 3, called the plot “the most dangerous crime of terrorism the country has ever witnessed.” Also on the charge sheet were indictments for “looting prison poultry and livestock.”
The Wadi el-Natroun jailbreak is included in a separate indictment, announced Wednesday by Egypt’s prosecutor general, in which Morsi and some of his top aides are charged with espionage and leaking national security secrets to foreign countries.
In that referral, the prison operation is listed as part of a larger, years-long conspiracy with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to sow chaos and propel the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt.
According to the prosecutor general, Hamas and Hezbollah, assisted by Iran, helped train Muslim Brotherhood operatives in Gaza as long ago as 2005. In return, Morsi allegedly leaked state secrets to the Revolutionary Guard once he assumed the presidency.
“I am confused as a citizen and as a lawyer,” said Ahmed El-Gedami, an Egyptian human rights lawyer. “Where were these charges when he was nominating himself for and then being elected president of the country?”
Morsi and other high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood leaders are also on trial for incitement to murder opposition protesters during his year in office. Morsi appeared in court Nov. 4 to face that charge for the first time.
But the move to try Morsi for the chaotic events of the 18-day revolt, including “damaging government buildings,” worries pro-democracy activists who were at the forefront of the protests that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
“If Morsi was in prison during the revolution, he was a political prisoner,” said Mohamed Atta, an activist with No Military Trials, an advocacy group working to keep civilians out of the military judicial system.
Police arrested Morsi on Jan. 28, 2011, three days into the unrest. The Muslim Brotherhood was the largest and most organized opposition group at the time. He escaped two days later.
Thousands of prisoners broke free from Egyptian jails during the upheaval, but how they managed to flee is unclear. Analysts and rights activists have cited a probable combination of prison riots, guards abandoning their posts and a coordinated effort by the Interior Ministry to coax Egyptians back into the arms of the state.
During the uprising, demonstrators responded with violence to security-force attacks, and residents often descended on local police stations to free imprisoned relatives and others. Protesters set fire to the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, and in March 2011, scores of activists stormed and looted the offices of the once-feared domestic intelligence service.
If Morsi is guilty of these charges, some activists said, many demonstrators during the revolution could face trial, too.
“I think now this is the beginning of the elimination of the revolutionaries,” Atta said of the charges against the former president, adding that some the best-known pro-democracy activists are behind bars for holding unauthorized demonstrations under a new law.
“It is not about the Brotherhood anymore,” Atta said. “The people will be on trial for standing against the regime.”
Sharaf Al-Hourani contributed to this report.