An Egyptian court on Sunday said Muslim Brotherhood members conspired with Hamas, Hezbollah and local militants to storm a prison in 2011 and free 34 Brotherhood leaders, including the future President Mohammed Mursi.
The court statement read by judge Khaled Mahgoub named two members of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood - Ibrahim Haggag and Sayed Ayad - to be among the alleged conspirators in the attack on Wadi el-Natroun prison on Jan. 29, 2011.
It is the first statement by a court that holds members of the Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah responsible for the attack on Wadi el-Natroun and two other prisons in which members of the Palestinian and Lebanese groups were held.
Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders have maintained that they were freed by local residents. Hamas, the Palestinian chapter of the Brotherhood, has denied involvement in the attacks on prisons.
The prison breaks took place during the 18-day popular uprising that toppled the 29-year regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The breaks led to a flood of some 23,000 criminals onto the streets, fueling a crime wave that continues to this day. Among those who escaped were around 40 members of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the 34 Brotherhood leaders.
A total of 26 top police, prison and intelligence officials have testified before the court, which held its hearings in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. Some gave their testimony in closed session.
The case began in January when a former inmate appealed a three-month sentence passed by a lower court that convicted him of escaping Wadi el-Natroun. The defendant was acquitted by judge Mahgoub, who on Sunday referred the testimonies and evidence gathered during the trial on the jailbreak at Wadi el-Natroun to prosecutors to investigate.
In Egypt's polarized political climate, Mursi's opponents have been using his escape from Wadi el-Natroun against him, saying friends of the Brotherhood violated the country's security and fed its instability. The eagerness of some in the intelligence and security agencies to blame Hamas could in part reflect resentment of the Brotherhood's ties with the militant group, which they have long seen as a threat.
The Wadi el-Natroun prison in which Mursi and his Brotherhood comrades were held is part of a four-jail complex northwest of Cairo. A total of 11,171 inmates were released from the complex. Thirteen inmates were also killed, according to Mahgoub, who said the attackers used machine-guns mounted on pickup trucks and SUVs as well as huge earth-moving vehicles that demolished parts of the walls and gates.
Egypt court: Muslim Brotherhood members planned jailbreak