Egypt's chief prosecutor charged 200 suspected militants Saturday with carrying out terrorist attacks that killed 40 policeman and 15 civilians and of conspiring with Palestinian militant group Hamas in one of Egypt's largest terrorism-related cases.
The defendants, 98 of whom remain on the run, are all suspected members of the al-Qaida-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group, or Champions of Jerusalem, which has claimed responsibility for a wave of attacks that picked up following the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer.
The prosecutor's statement refers to the group as "the most dangerous terrorist group," and accuses the defendants of receiving military training in the Palestinian Gaza Strip under the patronage of Hamas, and of traveling to Syria where they took part in fighting against government forces there before returning to Egypt.
Officials accuse Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating violence in Egypt, a charge the group denies.
The statement said the defendants carried out 51 attacks in recent months, including a spectacular bombing of the capital's security headquarters in January that left six killed. The attacks also include a failed assassination attempt against the interior minister in September, and a December attack against the security headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura that killed 16, almost all policemen.
The attacks also included the assassination of a senior police officer, who was the main investigator and a key witness in one of the trials in which Morsi is the main defendant.
The group, which had originally operated mostly in the restive north Sinai governorate, had claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Since Morsi's ouster, authorities have cracked down heavily on Islamists, arresting thousands and putting hundreds on trial, including Morsi, on charges that include instigating violence and holding illegal protests. Morsi is also accused of conspiring with foreign groups to destabilize Egypt.
The Brotherhood denies the charges and says authorities are seeking to associate them with violence to further undermine the group.
The statement also said the prosecutor's investigation revealed that Morsi, while in office, had negotiated with the group while in office to ensure it abstained from violence during his rule in exchange for a presidential pardon to their colleagues in prison.