Egyptian police arrested the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood's chief strategist and at least 140 supporters Thursday in a crackdown after a protest by uniformed students raised fears that the Islamist political group was creating a military wing.
The Interior Ministry announced the arrests, accusing the organization of recruiting students at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt's foremost Islamic institute, and providing them with combat training, knives and chains.
The strategist, Mohammed Khayrat Shater, 55, was taken from his home early Thursday, security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Security officials did not confirm the arrests of the scores of student supporters, including Shater's son-in-law. Shater joined the organization in 1974 and has been imprisoned four times, for a total of seven years behind bars, on charges related to his membership in the group.
Police said they had opened an investigation on whether the group was setting up a military wing, something the organization denied. The group has stressed that the students who demonstrated at Al Azhar University wore militia-style uniforms on their own initiative, without coordination with top leaders.
The Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed but is also Egypt's largest opposition group. It won 88 of parliament's 454 seats in elections a year ago, with its candidates running as independents.