An Egyptian court Saturday condemned to death seven people for membership of the Islamic State group and over the beheading on a Libyan beach of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt, judicial officials said. IS in Libya posted a video on the internet in February 2015 of the beheadings, sparking international condemnation and Egyptian air strikes against jihadist targets in the neighbouring Arab state.
Of the seven defendants, three were sentenced to death in absentia, the officials said. An unspecified number of those condemned were accused of having taken part in the beheadings. Death sentences in Egypt are subject to review by the country’s mufti as the official interpreter of Islamic law, although his verdict is not legally binding.
Prosecutors accused the seven suspects of membership of an IS cell in Marsa Matruh, northwest Egypt, and of planning attacks after having received military training at jihadist camps in Libya and Syria. Verdicts are to be issued on November 25 against 13 others on trial in the same case.
In May, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said military reverses for IS in war-torn Syria were driving its fighters to try to relocate to Libya and the Sinai Peninsula of eastern Egypt. Egypt has been battling an insurgency by an IS affiliate based in North Sinai since the military’s ouster in 2013 of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Hundreds of members of Egypt’s security forces have been killed, while more than 100 Copts have died in church bombings since December.