June 26, 2019
Middle East

Egypt military court sentences 17 to death over church bombings

Mourners pray next to coffins of the victims of a bombing at a Coptic church in Alexandria in 2017 (AFP)

An Egyptian military court has sentenced 17 people to death over a series of suicide bombings that targeted churches and left dozens dead.

The court on Thursday also handed life prison terms to another 19 people, and 10- to 15-year prison terms to ten more people for their alleged involvement in the attacks.

The bombings struck churches in Cairo, the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta in 2016 and 2017.

Seventy-four people were killed in the bombings, AFP news agency reported.

Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the country's population, has been the target of a spate of attacks in recent years.

Fighters belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the Alexandria and Tanta bombings, both of which were suicide attacks on Palm Sunday in April 2017 and left a total of 45 people dead.

The group also claimed responsibility for a December 2016 attack on a chapel adjoining St Mark's, Cairo's main cathedral, that left 28 dead.

Commenting after the court's verdict, Amnesty International said while there is no justification for attacks on Christian worshippers, a mass death sentence like the one handed out on Thursday would not deter future sectarian violence.

"There is no doubt that the perpetrators of these horrific attacks should be held accountable for their crimes. But handing out a mass death sentence after an unfair military trial is not justice and will not deter further sectarian attacks," said Najia Bounaim, the group's North African campaigns director.

Bounaim said Egypt "a shocking track record of unlawfully trying civilians in its notorious military courts", where guilty verdicts are often handed down on the basis of confessions extracted through torture.

"Those accused of involvement in these heinous crimes must be retried in a civilian court in proceedings that comply with international human rights law and fair trial standards," she said in a statement.

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