Egypt calls Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group

Designation given after car bombing by unrelated group

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CAIRO — In a sharp escalation of the confrontation between Egypt's military-backed administration and the Muslim Brotherhood, the interim government on Wednesday declared the Islamist movement a terrorist organization.

The step gives Egyptian authorities even broader authority to move against the Brotherhood, which has long been the target of a harsh and sustained campaign by security forces and the judicial system.

It has been nearly six months since Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was removed from office by the Egyptian army following massive nationwide demonstrations demanding his removal.

In the wake of the coup, the interim government repeatedly has declared its intention to set the country on a path to democracy; it has scheduled a constitutional referendum in January, which is to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections later in the year.

The decision to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist group, announced in a Cabinet statement, came a day after an attack against a police headquarters in northern Egypt.

The car bombing, in the Nile Delta town of Mansoura, killed at least 15 people, most of them police officers. On Wednesday, an al-Qaida-inspired group active in the Sinai Peninsula, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, claimed responsibility.

Within hours of the attack, government officials cast blame on the Brotherhood, which has staged months of street protests demanding Morsi's reinstatement. The former president, with nearly all of his senior aides, is imprisoned and accused of a list of offenses, a number of which carry the death penalty.

One of his three trials is to resume Jan. 8.

That the Mansoura bombing was apparently carried out by an unaffiliated Islamist organization did not prevent the government's latest move against the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood, Morsi's principal base of support, already had been legally banned, with the government given authorization to seize its financial assets. Thousands of rank-and-file members of the organization have been jailed, and about 1,000 of Morsi's backers were killed in a mid-August crackdown in which Egyptian security forces broke up sit-in camps in the capital and elsewhere.