Egypt charges 200 Islamist militants with bombings, other violence

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's public prosecutor charged 200 suspected Islamist militants on Saturday with "founding, leading and joining a terrorist organization" and launching bomb and rocket attacks across the country. The accused belong to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, a group that has claimed some of the deadliest attacks of the last nine months and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. The prosecutor's statement said 102 of those charged were in government custody with the rest on the run. Militant violence has spiraled in the Sinai Peninsula, Cairo and other cities since the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July after mass protests against his rule. The army-backed government accuses Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood of perpetrating violence. The group says it is committed to non-violence. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who led Mursi's ousting and is widely expected to win a presidential election this month, has said the Brotherhood would cease to exist during his presidency. The prosecutor's statement said the charges related to 51 attacks that killed 40 policemen and 15 civilians, including a car bomb at a security compound in central Cairo in January and an attempt to kill the interior minister in September. According to government figures, around 500 people have been killed in such attacks, mostly policemen and soldiers. Saturday's statement called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis "the most dangerous terrorist organization" and said it had collaborated with al-Qaeda and Palestinian group Hamas. It said investigations of the suspects showed Mursi had struck a deal with the group to refrain from attacks during his presidency in exchange for pardoning any members of the group. Mursi, in government custody since his ousting, is charged in several cases including one in which he is accused of conspiring with Hamas to break out of jail in 2011 during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. An Egyptian court sentenced more than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters to death in two cases this year on charges including inciting violence that followed Mursi's overthrow. Foreign governments and human rights groups have expressed alarm over the rulings. (Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Janet Lawrence)