EGYPT: 14 SENTENCED TO DEATH OVER SINAI ATTACKS
|Militant Islamists react as they attend their verdict at a court in Ismailia city
September 24, 2012: A court in the Suez Canal governorate of Ismailia, in Egypt, sentenced 14 militant Islamists to death by hanging and four to life imprisonment for attacks on a police station and a bank in the city of Arish in North Sinai in 2011.
A lower court had handed down the sentences on 14 August and the verdicts were confirmed by the supreme state security court, which issued its final verdict after Egypt's top religious cleric approved the executions, as is customary for death sentences under the nation's legal system.
The men, members of a militant group called Tawhid wa al-Jihad, were charged by the prosecutor with killing three police officers, an army officer and a civilian in attacks carried out in June and July 2011. Eight of the 14 death sentences were in absentia, court sources said. Another six men were acquitted in the same case. One other died in prison.
The verdicts were met with cries from the accused against President Mohamed Mursi, the Islamist head of state elected in 2012 and who the defendants blamed for the court's decision. "Mursi is an infidel and those who follow him are infidels," shouted one defendant. Others cried "God is Great" as they listened to the judge from inside the metal cage in which they stood during trial sessions.
The bearded men in the cage wore traditional white robes and some were seen holding the Koran, Islam's holy book.
The Sinai Peninsula has seen a spate of attacks by suspected Islamists since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011.
Residents complain of decades of neglect by governments in Cairo, leading to an increase in support for extremist Islamist groups.
In August 2012, 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed in what was the deadliest attack so far, prompting a massive security crackdown in the area. Tawhid wa al-Jihad has previously been accused of staging attacks in Egypt's Red Sea resorts in 2004-06, in which 34 people died.
El-Tawhid wi el-Jihad is part of a larger fringe trend in northern Sinai known as Takfir wil-Hijra. The movement's members, dubbed "Takfiris", lead secretive, isolated lives where anything and anyone that does not adhere to their rigid interpretation of Islam is deemed heretical â including the government and its security forces. Takfir wil-Hijra's leader, Shukri Mustafa, was executed under Sadat in 1978 after kidnapping and killing an Egyptian government minister. (Sources: AP, Reuters, 24/09/2012)