26 face death over planned attack on Suez Canal

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi holds a news conference at the Presidential palace in Cairo. Picture: AP Photo
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi holds a news conference at the Presidential palace in Cairo. Picture: AP Photo
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An EGYPTIAN court yesterday convicted 26 people of forming a terrorist group to launch an attack on the country’s vital Suez Canal waterway, with almost all receiving death sentences in absentia.

The verdict by the Cairo Criminal Court came after judges held only one session in the case. One of the defendants, younger than 18, did not receive a death sentence, a statement announcing the verdict said. It did not elaborate.

Courts in Egypt routinely convict defendants and give the maximum sentence to those tried in absentia. However, once caught, the defendants receive an automatic retrial.

The prosecutors charged the group with planning attacks on ships passing through the canal, as well as targeting security buildings, foreign tourists, Christians and police.

Egypt has been hit by a wave of bombings and suicide attacks since the July military ousting of Egypt’s first elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi. Morsi’s removal followed days of demonstrations by millions of Egyptians demanding he step down, accusing him of abusing power.

After Morsi’s fall, security forces launched a heavy crackdown on his supporters, who held mass demonstrations denouncing the military takeover and demanding that he be reinstated. Hundreds were killed in the summer and thousands jailed.

The interim government has labelled Morsi’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist organization, blaming it for the recent attacks. The Brotherhood, which officially renounced violence in the 1970s, denies being behind the attacks.

Most of the bombings have been claimed by an al-Qaida-inspired group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem. Last year, the group posted a video showing a masked gunman firing a rocket-propelled grenade, supposedly near the canal.

In 2012, an Egyptian court sentenced 14 militants to death on charges related to attacks on police and civilians in the volatile Sinai Peninsula in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising. Eight are in prison while the rest were tried in absentia. They allegedly belonged to the extremist Tawheed and Jihad group.

Meanwhile, Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will keep his post as defence minister in the new government, an official source said yesterday, quashing speculation he was about to announce a widely expected bid for the presidency.

Sisi is tipped to win the upcoming presidential election but has yet to announce his candidacy. He must vacate the post of defence minister in order to run.

But the source said he would probably keep that job until an election law is finalised.

The draft presidential election law will be handed to interim President Adly Mansour no later than Saturday for approval, the state news agency reported, quoting a judge involved in reviewing it.

The presidential election is the next major milestone in the transition plan set in motion after the army deposed Morsi last year following mass protests against his rule.