Officials in Egypt say they have no grounds to hold former President Hosni Mubarak in custody, and he could be released this week.
That notice came with news that Islamic militants killed 25 policemen in the Sinai peninsula this morning, after ambushing their mini-buses.
An Egyptian court has ruled that the government must release the country’s former ruler, Hosni Mubarak, because it had reached the two year limit for holding someone in custody pending a verdict.
Mubarak is being re-tried for the killings of pro-democracy demonstrators during the protests that brought down his rule.
He was found guilty at an initial trial and sentenced to life in prison. That sentence was overturned and he is now being tried again on the same charges.
The news that he might be released adds to the volatility in the country where nearly 1,000 people have been killed since the government conducted violent raids on peaceful Islamist demonstrators and declared a month long state of emergency six days ago.
Over the weekend, the government admitted that security forces had killed 36 prisoners while transporting them.
Tensions have been on the rise since the Egyptian army ousted and arrested the country’s democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.
Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the group has fought back against the government since that coup, with peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins, and now with increasingly violent actions.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, we'll take a closer look at one of the most powerful but least understood people in Egypt, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian military who's believed to be running the country these days.
HOBSON: But first to some news about the man who used to run Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. Officials say they may release him a little more than two years after he was arrested. He was charged with corruption and for his part in the deaths of hundreds of pro-democracy protestors during the demonstrations that brought him down just a couple of years ago.
News of his possible release comes amid historic levels of violence and unrest in the country after the ouster of Mubarak's democratically-elected successor, Mohamed Morsi. NPR's Leila Fadel is in Cairo and joins us now. And Leila, let's start with the news of Mubarak's possible release. What's going on here?
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well basically he is still on trial for his role in the killing of some 900 pro-democracy protestors almost three years ago. But the ability for the state to keep him in jail over that ran out a while ago. And today a judge ordered his release on another case in which he's being investigated for misusing public funds and property.
His lawyers say this may pave the way for his release. There's only one more case that he can be held on, a case of bribery, and it's unclear if that will also be overturned. And so therefore we may see the sort of the final indication of a full reversal of most of the gains of that uprising almost three years ago.
HOBSON: And this comes just as there are new allegations against Mohamed Morsi. What are those?
FADEL: So now he's being accused of inciting violence outside the presidential palace in December during another crisis here over the constitution. He's already under investigation for a slew of what many observers and supporters of Morsi call trumped-up charges, working with al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, the United States to destabilize Egypt, to hurt Egypt, for murder, for kidnapping. And so you may see a situation here in Egypt where Egypt's elected but now unpopular and hated president by many Egyptians will stay in prison or in detention, and Mubarak could possibly be released.
HOBSON: Leila, talk about the violence that we have seen there over the past few days. Just in the past 24 hours, militants have ambushed and shot at least 25 policemen in Northern Sinai, not far from the Gaza Strip. Also the Egyptian government admitted that security forces had killed at least 36 Islamist prisoners.
FADEL: Well, more than 950 people have died here since Wednesday, 950. The morgues are - the morgue is so overwhelmed there are ice trucks outside the morgue to put bodies in. There have been bodies in the streets, people having difficulty getting the certification they need to bury people. It is extremely violent.
This latest incident with the Islamist prisoners has been among the most disturbing for human rights group, who look at it suspiciously. The Ministry of Interior is saying there was a riot. They took an officer. They had to use tear gas, and many of them suffocated. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, from which ousted President Mohamed Morsi hails, say these men were tortured to death. It's really unclear what happened last night. And also in Sinai, that has been sort of a low-level insurgency for weeks now.
HOBSON: And we're hearing the words civil war. Are you hearing that? Is that what people are talking about on the streets of Cairo?
FADEL: I would say for the first time there is a true fear of civil war, Egyptians asking themselves could we be Syria, could we be Iraq, something they never thought could happen here in Egypt. But over the last few days we've seen civilian-on-civilian violence. We've seen a serious crackdown from the state on these Morsi supporters some of which have - are armed, but the majority of which are not.
And so people are starting to wonder if Egypt could slip into that. Also attacks on churches. Much of Egypt behind the military, but so many worried that this battle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, both not very democratic organizations, could drag Egypt into a civil war.
HOBSON: NPR's Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel, who is doing great reporting on Egypt morning, noon and night. Leila, thank you so much.
FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.