Egypt's prosecutor general announced Wednesday that former President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons are being held for 15 days for questioning over allegations of public corruption and the deaths of protesters during the popular uprising that forced him from power.
The detentions were the latest in a dramatic series of events surrounding the probes against top former regime officials in Egypt. Hours earlier, Mubarak complained of heart problems and was rushed to a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has been living since his ouster.
Mubarak collapsed under questioning on the first day of the investigation after refusing to eat or drink in the two days since his summons, NPR's Deborah Amos reported from Cairo. The 82-year-old was hospitalized, but when the state minister of health declared on television that Mubarak was stable, the prosecutor resumed questioning at his bedside and ordered Mubarak and his sons, Alaa and Gamal, detained.
Officials said Mubarak may remain hospitalized for the duration of his detention.
A security official in Sharm el-Sheikh told The Associated press that Mubarak was to be flown later Wednesday to The International Medical Center, a high-tech hospital on a highway near Cairo, where he will remain in detention. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
An angry crowd of 2,000 people gathered outside the hospital late Tuesday, demanding the sons' arrest. Then, in the early hours of Wednesday, the head of provincial security in the South Sinai told the crowd that Gamal and 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.
The news ticker on Egypt's state television said Mubarak's sons were questioned near Sharm el-Sheikh and then transferred to a prison in Cairo.
The increasing role of Gamal Mubarak in the government over the past decade and the belief that he might succeed his father helped galvanize Egypt's protest movement. He 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 Gamal's 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.
The three Mubaraks join other top members of the former ruling party who have also been arrested and had their assets frozen in the past week.
The prosecutor general's announcement was posted on Facebook and stated that investigators are probing allegations of corruption, the squandering of public funds, and abuse of authority for personal gain. The Facebook page was set up by Egyptian officials to reach out to families of those killed and injured during the protests that ousted Mubarak in mid-February.
"The prosecutor general orders the detention of former President Hosni Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa for 15 days pending investigation," the statement read.
Many Egyptians have accused the country's ruling military council of protecting the former president and failing to bring him to justice, Amos said. She added that protesters have continued pressure with Friday rallies that have grown in size each week.
Most of the top officials of Mubarak's regime are now being investigated on allegations of corruption and abuse of authority. Although Iraq's Saddam Hussein and his close aides were prosecuted and many of them hanged after the U.S.-led invasion there, a legal move against an ousted Arab leader without any foreign role in the proceeding has been unheard of in modern times.
The investigation of the Mubaraks is also seen as a way to help amend weeks of souring relations between the protest movement and 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 that started Jan. 25, commented on Mubarak's detention with a tweet: "Justice in action once again."
Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed during Egypt's uprising 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 had died as of March 7.
Authorities are now investigating government officials for their alleged role in ordering the violence.
For four days since last Friday, protesters have 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 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.
NPR's Deborah Amos and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported from Cairo for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.