Egypt upholds preliminary death sentences for police killings
CAIRO - An Egyptian court on Saturday upheld death sentences for seven men over the killing of 25 policemen in the Sinai Peninsula last year and for collaborating with Al-Qaeda.
The policemen were killed in an ambush in August 2013 in the North Sinai town of Rafah in what was one of the deadliest militant attacks targeting security forces.
It came just weeks after Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted following mass street protests against his one-year rule.
On Saturday, the court confirmed preliminary death sentences handed down in October against the seven men, including Islamist militant Adel Habara, after they were ratified by the country's mufti, or top Muslim cleric.
The sentences are subject to appeal.
Habara previously has been convicted in several other cases, including bomb attacks in southern Sinai between 2004 and 2006, officials said.
Three other suspects in last year's ambush were sentenced to life in prison, while 22 others were jailed for 15 years. Life imprisonment in Egypt is 25 years in jail.
Three defendants were acquitted, the court said in a verdict broadcast live on state television.
Prosecutors say militants intercepted two buses carrying the policemen in Rafah, a town bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip, and later killed them.
"The defendants committed the listed crimes because of their belief in the ideology of terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda, which considers the head of state as an infidel and legitimises insurgency," the judge said.
Militants have stepped up attacks against security forces since the ouster of Morsi, mainly in the flashpoint region of North Sinai.
The army has poured troops and armour in the region to crush the insurgency, but militants have still managed to stage attacks.
On October 24, a suicide bombing killed 30 soldiers near the North Sinai capital El-Arish, prompting a state of emergency and a curfew in parts of the peninsula.
The attack was claimed by Egypt's deadliest jihadist organisation Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem), which has since pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group that has captured swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.
Jihadists say their attacks are to avenge a government crackdown targeting Morsi supporters that has left at least 1,400 people dead and thousands imprisoned since his ouster.