CAIRO -- Egypt's military-backed government on Wednesday tightened a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, ordering the arrest of its revered leader in a bid to choke off the group's campaign to reinstate President Mohammed Morsi one week after an army-led coup.
The Brotherhood denounced the warrants for the arrest of Mohammed Badie and nine other leading Islamists for inciting violence Monday that left dozens dead, saying "dictatorship is back" and vowing it will never work with the interim rulers. Brotherhood leaders are believed to be taking refuge somewhere near a continuing sit-in by its supporters at the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo, but it is unclear if Mr. Badie also is there.
Security agencies have already jailed five Brotherhood leaders, including Mr. Badie's powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shaiter, and shut down its media outlets.
The Brotherhood is outraged by the overthrow of Mr. Morsi, one of its own, and demands his release from detention and reinstatement as president.
The prosecutor general's office said Mr. Badie and another deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, as well as senior member Mohammed El-Beltagy and popular preacher Safwat Hegazy are suspected of instigating the clashes with security forces outside a Republican Guard building near the mosque that killed 54 people -- mainly Morsi supporters -- in the worst bloodshed since he was ousted.
The Islamists have accused the troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed Morsi backers for trying to storm a military building.
The warrants highlight the armed forces' zero-tolerance policy toward the Brotherhood, which was banned under authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. "This just signals that dictatorship is back," said Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref. "We are returning to what is worse than Mubarak's regime, which wouldn't dare to issue an arrest warrant of the general leader of the Muslim Brotherhood."
The Brotherhood's refusal to work with the new interim leaders underscored difficulties they face in trying to stabilize Egypt and bridge the nation's deep fissures opened during Mr. Morsi's year in office. He has not been seen since his ouster July 3, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti gave the first official word on him, saying he is in a safe place and being treated in a "very dignified manner."
No charges have been leveled against him, Mr. Abdel-Atti said. "For his own safety and for the safety of the country, it is better to keep him. ... Otherwise, consequences will be dire," he added.
Mr. Badie had appeared at the Rabaa al-Adawiya rally Friday, a day after an earlier arrest warrant against him was issued, also accusing him of inciting violence. He delivered a message to the crowd Wednesday night through a senior Brotherhood leader, an indication he didn't want to make an appearance and endanger his security. He spoke of Monday's violence, calling the troops that carried it out "traitors."
"They didn't just betray their people, ... [or] their leader [Morsi], but they also betrayed God," said Abdel-Rahman el-Bar, a Brotherhood leader, reading from Mr. Badie's message. He urged supporters to stay camped out in the sit-in and mosques, using the holy month of Ramadan to pray for Mr. Morsi's deliverance.
Mr. Badie also sought to dismiss accusations that his group used violence.
"The Muslim Brotherhood has struggled for Egypt's freedom from occupation and oppression. It was and will remain faithful to its promises and peaceful in its positions," the message said.
On Friday, Mr. Badie had delivered a fiery speech at the rally in person, telling those in the crowd that they will bring Mr. Morsi back to the palace on their shoulders.
After the speech, thousands of Islamists marched and clashed with Morsi foes in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, leaving more than 30 dead and 200 injured.
In one of the most dramatic instances of violence that day, two Morsi foes were killed when they were pushed off a roof by the ousted president's supporters in Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city. Hamada Badr was stabbed and thrown off the roof, his father said. According to amateur video The Associated Press accessed, a second man was hurled to his death, and Morsi supporters were seen beating his lifeless body. The video appeared consistent with AP reporting.
The military and supportive media have depicted the Brotherhood and its backers as promoting violence and endangering national security. The Brotherhood and pro-Morsi protesters have portrayed the defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as head of a "militia" seeking to annihilate Islamists, waging a fight akin to Syria's civil war.
Late Wednesday, gunmen in a pickup truck opened fire on the convoy of a top military commander, Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, in the Sinai town of Rafah, near the Gaza border, drawing fire from accompanying troops, security officials said. Gen. Wasfi escaped unharmed, but a 5-year-old girl was killed in the clashes, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. One gunman was arrested.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Morsi supporters protested late Wednesday outside the presidential palace, where his foes have continued to hold their ground, even after his ouster.