Egypt Sentences 17 Islamic Militants to Death for Coptic Christian Church Killings

Coffins are seen inside the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday, in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017.
Coffins are seen inside the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday, in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Seventeen Islamic militants were sentenced to death on Thursday for their role in multiple church bombings in Egypt that killed scores of Coptic Christians.

The Associated Press reported that another 19 defendants were issued life sentences by a military court, while nine others were given 15 years in prison for terror-related charges.

Several were found guilty of being involved in a suicide bombing at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo in December 2016, where 25 people died. Others were found guilty of being involved in the twin suicide bombings in churches in Alexandria and Tanta on Palm Sunday in April 2017, where 45 were killed.

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Coptic Christians, who make up only 10 percent of the population, have been the target of continuous Islamist attacks in Egypt, some which have been claimed by the Islamic State terror group.

Human rights group Amnesty International posited that the verdict on Thursday was rushed, and argued that the defendants need a fair hearing before a civilian court.

"There can be no justification for the utterly reprehensible attacks which targeted worshipers in Coptic Christian churches across Egypt in 2017. 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, who heads the North African section of the human rights group.

"Egypt has a shocking track record of unlawfully trying civilians in its notorious military courts and sentencing scores to death after grossly unfair mass trials, often based on '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," Bounaim added.

Coptic Christians have in the past cried out for justice and demanded that the Egyptian government does more to protect them from attacks.

Church leaders have opposed previous death sentences, however.

When former president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to death in May 2015 for his role in the killings of Christians at the hands of Muslim radicals, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut spoke out against it.

Anba Kyrillos William said at the time the Church does not compromise on defending life, and cannot back the death penalty.

"The Church respects the independence of the judiciary, but believes that life is an inviolable right, and remains opposed to the death penalty. The fact is that this type of sentence is still contemplated in the Egyptian legal order," William told Fides News Agency at the time.

Anba Angaelos, the General Bishop in the United Kingdom of the Coptic Orthodox Church, said in a statement earlier this year when marking the anniversary of the attacks that for the families of the victims, the anger and pain remains deep.

"As the situation facing Christians and minority groups in the Middle East increasingly spirals to new and dangerous levels of exclusion and dehumanization, the need is intensified for both the unified Body of Christ within the Christian family, and the global community as a whole, to stand in solidarity with those suffering, condemn acts of brutality, and provide whatever assistance may be needed, while at the same time, explore every possible means of healing, rebuilding and restoring of communities and lives," Angaelos wrote on his website.

"We continue to hold those suffering great struggles, indignity and the loss of precious human life in our prayers, that grace, healing and strength be bestowed upon them all at this time. We also pray for those committing these atrocities, that they will one day realize the sanctity and dignity granted equally by God to every human life," he added.

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