CAIRO — Egyptian authorities arrested 11 Muslim Brotherhood members accused of running Facebook pages that incite violence against the police, expanding a crackdown on followers of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to include social media.
The arrests on Wednesday and Thursday are a sign that after largely crippling the group in a wave of arrests and killings of protesters, security agencies are going after younger members using the Internet to keep protests alive — and looking for evidence of links to a growing insurgency and violent backlash.
Bombings and drive-by shootings targeting police officers have accelerated in retaliation for the killings and jailing of Brotherhood members and other Islamists. The attacks have been claimed by an Al Qaeda-inspired militant group, but the government accuses Morsi’s Brotherhood of orchestrating the unrest and has branded it a terrorist group — an accusation the group denies.
The online pursuit by police raises concerns that the fear of attacks could be used as a pretext for imposing heavier restrictions on the freedom of the Internet, a major outlet for expression after the military-backed interim government extended the crackdown to silence other forms of dissent, with the arrests of leading secular activists.
According to the private-owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, the government is preparing a new antiterrorism law that criminalizes websites that promote ‘‘ideas or beliefs calling for use of force or violence.’’ The bill, drafted by the Justice Ministry, called for penalties of no less than five years in prison for those creating such sites.
Earlier this month, leading liberal and former lawmaker Amr Hamzawi was referred to trial on charges of insulting a judge because of a Twitter posting criticizing a ruling.
Meanwhile, under the crackdown, social media have become one of the Brotherhood’s top ways of communication, spreading calls for protests demanding Morsi’s reinstatement and posting photos of bloodied faces of slain protesters while calling for revenge.
Authorities said that after police crushed two pro-Morsi protest camps in August, Brotherhood-linked pages were filled with names, pictures, and personal details on police officers they accuse of involvement in the assault. The day witnessed one of Egypt’s worst bloodbaths, with hundreds killed.
The new arrests were tied to a Brotherhood-linked pages. The Interior Ministry said Thursday the detainees were accused of using the pages to ‘‘incite violence, target citizens, make bombs, and carry threatening messages.’’ It said some were arrested for sharing postings from other pages called the Free Islamic Army.
Among those detained was a teacher from the city of Damanhour, who allegedly posted on his Facebook page a ‘‘statement inciting the burning of police vehicles,’’ the ministry said.
Two others, a government employee and his son, were arrested for a page called ‘‘Revolutionaries of Beni Suef,’’ a southern province. The page, set up Jan. 21, has 500 followers. A posting shows photos of an army officer with his children. A caption identifies him as part of the ‘‘el-Sissi militia,” a reference to Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who leads the military government that deposed Morsi.
‘‘I say to all el-Sissi dogs everywhere, you are under the microscope,’’ it read.