CAIRO -- Prosecutors will investigate allegations that Egypt's ousted president escaped from prison during the 2011 revolution with help from the Palestinian militant group Hamas, officials said Thursday.
Chief prosecutor Hesham Barakat has received testimonies from a court in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia that will be the base for an investigation by state security prosecutors into the jailbreak by Mohammed Morsi and more than 30 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The question of whether Hamas helped them escape amid the chaos surrounding the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak has been debated in the media for months and proved a political headache for Mr. Morsi during his one-year rule as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics in the opposition and judiciary have suggested that proof of foreign intervention on Egyptian soil could lead to treason charges.
The issue has taken on more significance since Mr. Morsi was ousted July 3 by the military following a wave of protests in which millions of Egyptians called on him to step down. The toppled Islamist leader has been kept at an undisclosed Defense Ministry facility, and no charges against him have been announced.
Hamas has denied any role in the Jan. 29, 2011, jailbreak at Wadi el-Natroun prison northwest of Cairo. Mr. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders have said local residents helped them escape after most inmates left the facility.
The investigation stems from a court case against a former inmate, but Judge Khaled Mahgoub turned what was, in effect, a low-profile trial into a public inquiry into the escape by Mr. Morsi and the other Brotherhood officials. A series of prison officials, police and intelligence agents testified, some behind closed doors. In the end, Judge Mahgoub referred the testimonies he collected to the chief prosecutor's office, with a request that he investigate the matter further.
In part at least, the trial in Ismailia fits into a picture of strained relations between Mr. Morsi and the judiciary after what many judges saw as his encroachment on judicial independence.
A string of top police, prison and intelligence officials have blamed Hamas, a close ally of Mr. Morsi's Brotherhood, saying the militant group sent fighters from the Gaza Strip to join with Bedouins from the Sinai Peninsula to storm prisons and break out the jailed Hamas members.
In Egypt's polarized political climate, foes of the ousted leader used the issue 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 reflects, in part, resentment of the Brotherhood's ties with the militant group, which they long have seen as a threat.