Egypt on Tuesday announced the arrest of the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, dealing another blow to the group as it struggles to maintain order amid a tough crackdown by authorities, who are looking to quell protests in the wake of President Mohamed Morsi's ouster.
Mohammed Badie was arrested in an apartment at the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, close to the location of the six-week sit-in protest by supporters of Morsi, who also hails from the Islamist group. The encampment was cleared by security forces last Wednesday, along with another protest site in Giza, in a raid that killed hundreds of people.
Badie's arrest is the latest stage in an escalating crackdown by authorities on the Brotherhood in which hundreds have also been arrested.
His detention came “after information came to the security apparatus locating his place of hiding,” Reuters quoted Egypt's state news agency as saying. The Facebook page of the Interior Ministry showed a picture of Badie, with dark rings under his eyes, sitting in a car between two men in black body armor with a caption confirming his arrest. ''The necessary legal measures are being taken,” the page said, according to Reuters.
Badie, known as the Brotherhood’s General Guide, and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater, who is in custody, go on trial next week for their alleged role in the killing of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters in June.
Badie last appeared in public at a sit-in protest in July, when he delivered a fiery speech from a makeshift stage in which he denounced the July 3 military coup that removed Morsi. Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref sought to downplay the significance of Badie's arrest, writing on his Facebook page on Tuesday simply: "Mohammed Badie is one member of the Brotherhood."
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest condemned Badie's arrest, saying it was not in line with the standard the U.S. expects in upholding human rights.
The White House said Tuesday that it will hold a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss cutting some of America's $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ezzat, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was tapped to be the group's interim leader, it announced Tuesday on its website, according to the AFP.
Security officials said Badie was taken to Torah prison in a suburb just south of Cairo and that a team of prosecutors were to question him Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Torah is a sprawling complex where the autocrat Hosni Mubarak, ousted in the 2011 popular uprising, is also held, along with his two sons. Several Mubarak-era figures are also imprisoned there, as are several Brotherhood leaders and other Islamists.
Meanwhile, Egypt's military-backed government is considering the outlawing of the Brotherhood, which has spent most of the 85 years since its creation as an illegal organization. The government is seeking legal advice on banning the group and has been coming under growing pressure from the media and a wide array of secular politicians to declare it a terrorist organization.
The Brotherhood's near daily protests since Morsi's ouster have somewhat petered out the last two days, with scattered demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere in the country attracting hundreds, sometimes just dozens.
Morsi himself has been detained in an undisclosed location since the military coup, prompted by days-long protests by millions of Egyptians demonstrating against the president and his rule. He is facing accusations of conspiring with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising and complicity in the killing and torture of protesters outside his Cairo palace in December.
Elsewhere, an Egyptian journalist working for a state-run daily was shot dead early Tuesday by soldiers at a military checkpoint, security officials said. Tamer Abdel-Raouf from Al-Ahram and a colleague were on the road after finishing a late-night interview with the recently appointed governor of Beheira province.
They were stopped at a checkpoint, asked for identification papers and told they had broken the dusk-to-dawn curfew. The two then drove off without permission and a soldier from the checkpoint opened fire, killing Abdel-Raouf. His colleague was injured when their car hit a tree, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Abdel-Raouf's death came after suspected Islamic militants ambushed two minibuses carrying off-duty policemen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula early on Monday, forcing the men to lie on the sand and shooting 25 of them dead.
The daylight attack raised fears that the strategic desert region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip could be plunged into a full-fledged insurgency. The policemen were given a funeral with full military honors late on Monday. The men's coffins, draped in red, white and black Egyptian flags, were jointly carried by army soldiers and policemen, and Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour declared a nationwide state of mourning to mark their deaths.
The Sinai Peninsula has long been wracked by violence by Al Qaeda-linked fighters, some who consider Morsi's Brotherhood to be too moderate, and tribesmen who have used the area for smuggling and other criminal activity. Attacks, especially those targeting security forces, have been on the rise since Morsi's ouster.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.