Egyptian authorities have arrested two more prominent Islamist figures a day after detaining the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader and spiritual guide, Mohammed Badie.
Officers held Safwat Hegazy, a top ally of the Brotherhood, as he reportedly tried to flee to neighbouring Libya disguised as a woman, and Mourad Ali, a spokesman for the Islamist group on his way to catch a flight out of the country.
The arrests are the latest in a crackdown by Egypt’s new military-backed leaders against the Brotherhood, from which ousted president Mohammed Morsi hails.
They deal another serious blow to the embattled movement that is struggling to keep up street protests against the military’s overthrow of Mr Morsi.
Mr Badie was arrested in an apartment in the Cairo district of Nasr City, close to the site of a sit-in encampment that was forcibly cleared by security forces last week, triggering violence that killed hundreds of people.
Hundreds, including the Brotherhood’s former politicians and field operatives, are already in custody.
Mr Morsi and his senior aides have been held at an unknown location, incommunicado since the July 3 military coup. The removal of Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, came after four days of mass protests in Cairo and elsewhere demanding he step down for abusing power.
Mr Hegazy, a fiery Salafi preacher and top Brotherhood ally, was captured at a checkpoint near the Siwa Oasis in eastern Egypt, close to the border with Libya, according to the state-run MENA news agency.
According to the website of the state-run Al-Ahram daily, he had shaved off most of his beard, dyed his hair and covered his face with a niqab, a head-to-toe woman’s dress that leaves only a slit for the eyes. Egyptian state TV aired a photo showing him sitting next to army soldiers, dressed in white robe with the new shaven look.
MENA said Mr Hegazy, who joined ranks with the Muslim Brotherhood in campaigning for Mr Morsi’s presidential bid, showed no resistance during his arrest and was flown to a detention centre in Cairo.
He was a key speaker at the main pro-Morsi sit-in that was dispersed by security troops last Wednesday in Cairo’s Nasr City suburb. He told protesters to hold their ground and promised to deal blows to the military.
He is wanted on charges of instigating deadly clashes last month with security forces outside a Republican Guard building that killed 54 people, most of them Morsi supporters.
An Egyptian security official said Mr Ali, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s political party, was detained at Cairo airport, trying to catch a flight to Italy.
The Brotherhood arrests are aimed at crippling the group and weakening its ability to continue street protests.
Over the past three days, the group’s near-daily protests since Mr Morsi’s removal have diminished, with scattered demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere attracting only hundreds, or even dozens, of protesters.
Other key Brotherhood figures who are still on the run and wanted on various charges are Mohammed el-Beltagy, a former member of the constituent assembly, which last year drafted the now suspended constitution, and Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the group.