December 6, 2014 / 11:23 AM / 3 years ago

Egypt court sentences seven jihadists to death in Sinai case

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court has sentenced to death seven men, including prominent Islamist militant Adel Habara, over the killing of 25 policemen last year in an attack near the border with Israel, judicial sources said on Saturday.

The attack took place in August 2013 following the government’s violent clearing of two protest camps in Cairo, where supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi had gathered to demand his reinstatement.

The court sentenced 25 others on related charges to prison for terms ranging from 15 years to life. Only 19 of those sentenced were present, including Habara, the sources said.

The ruling, which can be appealed, followed the referral of the death sentence to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest Sunni Muslim authority.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief engineered Mursi’s overthrow following protests against his rule and then launched a crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, faces a growing Islamist insurgency in the lawless Sinai Peninsula adjoining Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up in the crackdown and hundreds have since been sentenced to death. Liberal activists have also been suppressed, with many of the leading lights of the 2011 popular uprising also facing trial for breaking a law that seeks to curb protests.

More than 500 people, mostly police and soldiers, have been killed across Egypt in Islamist militant attacks since last summer, according to government statistics.

Officials have expressed concern about fighters crossing Egypt’s western border from Libya.

Sisi’s government does not differentiate between radical Islamist groups based mainly in the Sinai and the Brotherhood, which maintains it is a peaceful organization and has denied any connection with recent anti-state violence.

Reporting by Ali Abdellati, writing by Stephen Kalin, editing by Louise Heavens

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