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Egypt accuses Al-Jazeera staff of joining terrorists

CAIRO -- Egyptian authorities pressed charges of joining a terrorist group against 20 staff members of the Arab television channel Al-Jazeera, including an Australian, two Britons and a Dutch citizen.

The defendants, the rest of whom are Egyptian, are also charged with spreading false news that endangers national security and harms Egypt's image, according to a faxed statement from the prosecution. It said they used two suites in a luxury hotel in Cairo as a media center to pursue those aims.

The prosecutors said the defendants "fabricated footage" to create "unreal scenes" and give the impression to the outside world that "the country is witnessing a civil war." It said their efforts were intended to serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities last month.

The Brotherhood has been the target of an unprecedented crackdown since the army toppled the elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in July. Many of its top leaders are on trial, including Morsi, and hundreds of supporters have been killed by security forces as they protested the military intervention.

Al-Jazeera is owned by the ruling family of Qatar, who are among the main supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and backed Egypt with financial aid during Morsi's one-year as president.

The channel said the allegations against its journalists are "absurd, baseless and false."

"This is a challenge to free speech, to the right of journalists to report on all aspects of events, and to the right of people to know what is going on," it said in an emailed statement.

Al-Jazeera said five of its journalists are in detention, and it hasn't been notified about developments in the case. It said it now has no journalists reporting in Egypt.

-- Bloomberg News

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