SHAFAQNA – An Egyptian military tribunal sentenced Tuesday seven alleged militants to death and two to life in prison for their roles in consecutive attacks that killed nine soldiers this year, an official said.
Egypt’s government has intensified its efforts against militants who have increased and escalated their attacks mostly against troops and government installations. The simmering dispute follows the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and a subsequent crackdown by authorities on Islamists. Militant groups say they are avenging the crackdown.
Speaking Tuesday, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said terrorism requires international cooperation and that no country can face it alone, but he stressed that Egypt does not need international help in facing terrorism on its own territory. Egypt is concerned about the rising powers of Islamist militias in Libya, who have also carried out cross-border attacks in Egypt.
El-Sissi, however, repeated previous government denials that Egypt has participated in attacks on Libyan soil. Officials have told the Associated Press that Egyptian warplanes had bombed Libyan militia positions in the eastern city of Benghazi.
El-Sissi said the Libyan military is capable of protecting its own territory, according to comments published by the state news agency MENA.
Egypt’s government has also intensified its crackdown on weapon smuggling, including closing tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip it suspects are used for such contraband. In his comments to editors in chief of state newspapers, el-Sissi also said his country is working closely with Sudan to coordinate border patrols.
The long borders with Sudan are also a common route for weapons and militant smuggling.
In the trial, the sentenced defendants are alleged members of the al-Qaida-inspired militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem. Originally based in northern Sinai, the group has also claimed responsibility for most of the major attacks in or near Cairo, targeting mostly troops and government installations.
In Egypt, civilians accused of attacking members of the armed forces are only tried before military tribunals. Human rights groups criticize military trials for hasty procedures, harsh sentences, and limited transparency. The verdicts can be appealed, but any appeal would return to another military court.
Six of the defendants were arrested in March following a raid on their hideout on the outskirts of Cairo, during which two officers were killed.
The defendants are also accused of plotting two other attacks against a military bus and a military checkpoint, killing seven soldiers. One of the defendants was tried in absentia.
In a detailed investigation of the case and the trial documents, the independent online news site Mada Masr found that two of the defendants were previously arrested and detained in the second half of the last decade, spending between three and five years in prisons during the reign of Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was forced to step down following mass protests against him in 2011. At least one of the defendants had traveled to Syria to join militants fighting there before returning to Egypt to join Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Mada Masr found after reviewing the 1,000-page trial file.
The military official said the court issued its decision Tuesday after the country’s top Muslim cleric approved the initial sentence in August, a necessary step.