CAIRO — Egypt's prosecutor general announced Wednesday the 15-day detention of the country's former president pending inquiries into accusations of corruption, abuse of authority and the killings of protesters, in an unprecedented investigation of a former ruler in the Arab world.
The announcement was the latest in a dramatic series of events surrounding the probes against top former regime officials, and came just hours after former President Hosni Mubarak, 82, was hospitalized with heart problems in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Since Mubarak's ouster on Feb. 11 on a wave of popular protests, Egyptians have been calling for the investigation of their longtime ruler along with that of many members of his government.
A statement from the prosecutor general's office announcing Mubarak's detention was posted on the social networking site Facebook early Wednesday. It said the ongoing investigation was into allegations of assaults, killings and injury of protesters, corruption, squandering of public funds, and the abuse of authority for personal gain.
Just hours earlier, a separate announcement said the ex-president's two sons were being questioned and detained. It is believed Mubarak will remain in the hospital during his detention.
"The prosecutor general orders the detention of former President Hosni Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa for 15 days pending investigation," read the statement. The Facebook page was set up as an outreach from the Justice Ministry to the families of those killed and injured during the 18 days of protests that ousted Mubarak in mid-February.
Most of the top officials of Mubarak's regime are now being investigated on allegations of corruption and abuse of authority. Although Saddam Hussein and his close aides were prosecuted and many of them hanged after the U.S.-led invasion, legal moves against an ousted leader without any foreign role in the proceeding has been unheard of in modern times.
Mubaraks' probe is also seen as a way to help amend weeks of souring relations between the protest movement the Egyptian military, which took control after Mubarak was toppled. The protesters say the investigations are slow, and are outweighed by rights abuses by the new rulers.
They have also criticized the army for being too close to the old regime and not swiftly bringing Mubarak to trial while hundreds of protesters remain in military detention following a demonstration last month and others received swift trials before military courts.
Wael Ghoneim, one of the activists who organized the uprising against Mubarak, which started Jan. 25, commented on Mubarak's detention with a tweet: "Justice in action once again."
While the ex-president was taken to the hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has been living since being removed from power, his sons were taken for questioning to the nearby courthouse by prosecutors from Cairo.
An angry crowd of 2,000 people had gathered outside the hospital late Tuesday, demanding the sons' arrest. Then, in the early hours Wednesday, head of provincial security in the South Sinai told the crowd that Gamal and his businessman brother Alaa would be detained.
"Brothers, whatever you wanted, you have got ... 15 days," said Maj. Gen. Mohammed el-Khatib, as the crowd erupted in cheers.
As a police van with drawn curtains took away the brothers, the crowd pelted it with water bottles, stones and their flip-flops, a sign of disrespect in the Arab world.
Later, an airport official at the Sharm el-Sheik airport said the sons have been transferred aboard a private jet to the Torah prison on the outskirts of Cairo. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The increasing role of Gamal Mubarak in the government over the last decade and the belief that he might succeed his father helped galvanize Egypt's protest movement.
Hundreds are estimated to have been killed during the protests as police opened fire and cracked down on the crowds. Officials put the number of protesters killed during the uprising at 365, but human rights activists and others have said the figure is much higher. According to a count by the Front to Defend Egypt Protesters, a group that provides medical and legal assistance to the demonstrators, 685 people died as of March 7.
Authorities are now investigating government officials for their role in ordering the violence.
Gamal is also seen as the architect of Egypt's privatization program and economic liberalization, which has brought in billions in foreign investment but has also widened the gap between rich and poor.
Many of his close associates were billionaires and held top positions in the ruling party and the government. There are allegations that they used their positions for personal gain.
Mubarak arrived late Tuesday under heavy police protection to the main hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh and stepped out of his armored Mercedes unaided before being taken to the presidential suite in the pyramid-shaped building, according to doctors and security officials at the hospital who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Soon after the hospitalization and in a sign that his ailment might not be very serious, Justice Minister Mohammed el-Guindi said Mubarak was then questioned in his suite for his role in the violence against protesters. The ministry statement on Facebook said Mubarak's lawyers and a medical team were present during the interrogation.
The investigation into corruption charges would be carried out later by the Justice Ministry's anti-corruption department, he added.
The protest movement that deposed Mubarak had long pushed for him to be brought to justice for what they say are decades of abuse.
For four days since last Friday, protesters reoccupied parts of Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and closed it off to traffic. Efforts by the army to evict them Saturday resulted in at least one death and dozens of injuries and raised tensions between the protesters and the country's military rulers.
On Tuesday, a scuffle broke out when some residents tried to break up the four-day sit-in, removing barbed-wire and barricades. The army then moved in and took control of the square and cordoned off the once grassy roundabout that had been the center of many demonstrations.
Mubarak has a history of minor ailments and underwent gallbladder surgery in Germany in March last year. He has kept a low profile since he was ousted, living on his compound in Sharm el-Sheikh. He was banned from traveling and his assets have been frozen. Many of his senior aides have already either been questioned or detained pending investigations.
But on Sunday, Mubarak defended himself in a prerecorded message saying he had not abused his authority, and investigators were welcome to check over his assets.Comment on this story
It was his first address to the people in the two months since his ouster. Shortly after, the prosecutor general issued a summons for Mubarak to appear for questioning.
In another tweet reacting to Mubarak's detention, activist Amr Bassiouny said the detention was not the protesters primary goal but "free speech, free assembly, free press — no torture, real democracy, end of lies."
Associated Press writers Paul Schemm and Maggie Michael in Cairo, and Yasser Imam and Ashraf Sweilam in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, contributed to this report.