Egypt says Hamas, Brotherhood involved in top prosecutor's murder

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  • Hisham Barakat
    Egyptian prosecutor general (1950-2015)

Cairo (AFP) - Egypt on Sunday accused the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood of involvement in last year's killing of the country's top prosecutor Hisham Barakat.

Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar said that 14 members of the Muslim Brotherhood participated directly in the plan to murder Barakat, who was assassinated in a car bomb attack on June 29.

"This plot was carried out on the orders of the Muslim Brotherhood... in close coordination with Hamas, which played a very important role in the assassination of the chief prosecutor from start to finish," Abdel Ghaffar told reporters.

Cairo regularly accuses Hamas, which controls the neighbouring Gaza Strip and is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, of supporting attacks in Egypt.

Hamas swiftly denied that it was involved in the killing.

"The accusations against Hamas regarding the assassination of prosecutor general Hisham Barakat are false and run contrary to efforts to strengthen relations between Hamas and Cairo," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the movement's Al-Aqsa television channel.

Abdel Ghaffar said the 14 people who "directly participated" in the killing were "part of a cell of 48 people who had planned... a big conspiracy" against Egypt.

He said the entire cell of 48 had been arrested. "All those arrested are from the Muslim Brotherhood," he said.

Barakat, 64, was killed when a car bomb struck his convoy in the upscale east Cairo district of Heliopolis.

He was the most senior government official to be killed since jihadists launched an insurgency following the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

He was appointed after Morsi's ouster, and was seen as a staunch opponent of the Islamist opposition, referring thousands of people to trial.

- Crackdown on the Brotherhood -

Barakat's assassination, which has never been claimed by any group, came as a blow to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who overthrew Morsi and won elections in 2014 on a pledge to wipe out Islamist militants.

After ousting Morsi, the authorities began a blistering crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood movement that has left hundreds of people dead and thousands jailed.

Hundreds more have been sentenced to death or lengthy jail terms after speedy mass trials.

Morsi himself has been sentenced to death after being convicted of plotting jailbreaks and attacking police during the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

The Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition movement for decades, was blacklisted as a "terrorist group" in December 2013.

Since Morsi's ouster, Hamas has had strained relations with Sisi.

Abdel Ghaffar said that no member of Hamas had directly participated in Barakat's murder.

"But they were involved in the planning and training of those who carried out the assassination," he said.

"Some Bedouins helped the members of the cell enter the Gaza Strip from Sinai."

The mountainous northern part of the Sinai Peninsula is a bastion of the Egyptian affiliate of the jihadist Islamic State group, which has spearheaded an insurgency against the security forces since Morsi's ouster.

Barakat's assassination came after the IS affiliate -- "Sinai Province" -- called for attacks on the country's judiciary.

Jihadists have regularly attacked police and soldiers in the peninsula and in cities in retaliation for the police crackdown targeting Morsi supporters.

Although the Sinai Province group has claimed it was behind near daily attacks on the security forces, the authorities have always blamed these on Morsi's banned Muslim Brotherhood.

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