March 5, 2015 / 3:48 PM / in 3 years

Egypt puts over 200 on trial, accused of militant activity

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court opened the trial on Thursday of 213 suspected militants, including members of the army and police, on charges of joining Egypt’s most active militant group and attempting to assassinate the interior minister, judicial sources said.

Egypt has been grappling with rising Islamist militancy since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted freely elected President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Hundreds of soldiers and policemen have been killed in deadly attacks claimed by the Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group, which changed its name to Sinai Province after pledging allegiance to Islamic State, the hardline Sunni militant group that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Egyptian authorities make no distinction between the Brotherhood, Islamic State and al Qaeda, arguing that they have a shared ideology and are equally dangerous.

Judge Hassan Farid who is presiding over the case adjourned proceedings to April 4 after indictments were read out.

The defendants, 143 of whom are in detention, are charged with forming and joining a terrorist group, attacking state facilities, murder, attempted murder, and possessing weapons, judicial sources said, citing the state prosecutor’s indictments.

Of the defendants, at least five belong to the army and police services. Two of them are in detention while three are on the run, the sources said.

SINAI OPERATIONS

Egypt’s public prosecutor Hesham Barakat had said in May that the defendants had launched 51 “terrorist” attacks that killed 40 policemen and 15 civilians, and wounded 348 people.

One of these attacks was the attempted assassination of Mohamed Ibrahim, the interior minister who was replaced in a cabinet reshuffle on Thursday.

Islamic State’s Egypt wing has claimed responsibility for one of the bloodiest attacks on Egyptian security forces in years. At least 30 security force members were killed in a series of coordinated operations in Northern Sinai in January.

Sisi, who was elected president last year, has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for violence.

The army-backed government has mounted one of the biggest crackdowns in its modern history on the Brotherhood since the ouster of Mursi. The movement denies any connection with militants and says it is committed to peaceful activism.

Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Ralph Boulton

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