Egypt condemns 14 to death for 2011 Sinai attack

ISMAILIA, Egypt Tue Aug 14, 2012 2:10pm EDT

Egyptian security forces arrest suspected militants after a firefight at the al-Goura settlement in Egypt's north Sinai region, about 15 km (10 miles) from the border with Israel, August 12, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Egyptian security forces arrest suspected militants after a firefight at the al-Goura settlement in Egypt's north Sinai region, about 15 km (10 miles) from the border with Israel, August 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - An Egyptian court sentenced to death on Tuesday 14 people it said were Islamist militants for a deadly attack on a police station in North Sinai last year, a court official said.

The ruling may add to tension in the volatile region bordering Israel, where fighting between security forces and militants has intensified since August 5 when 16 border guards were killed in an attack blamed on Islamist groups.

The condemned men were convicted for attacking a police station in north Sinai's main town of al-Arish in July 2011, killing an army officer, five policemen and a civilian, the court said.

Footage from inside the court showed bearded defendants, wearing the white overalls issued to detainees, standing or sitting in a metal cage. One was brought into court in a wheelchair. Six of the condemned men were present in court, others convicted in absentia.

They were all accused of being members of Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad, one of the banned groups being targeted in a security crackdown on militants in the desert peninsula.

The same court, in the city of Ismailia, on the west bank of the Suez Canal, will rule on September 24 on another 11 defendants, also accused of being part of the group that was blamed for bombing tourist resorts in Sinai in 2004 and 2005.

Thirteen of the 25 defendants in the two cases were tried in absentia as they are not in Egyptian custody.

Three bombings, targeting Israeli tourists at an Egyptian Red Sea hotel, killed 34 people in October 2004. More than 80 people were killed and 200 injured when suspected car bombs rocked the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2005.

The group kept a low profile after its founders were killed by police following those bombings but had a resurgence after a popular uprising overthrew President Hosni Mubarak 18 months ago and members of the group fled prison and began to regroup, security experts and residents in Sinai say.

(Writing by Tamim Elyan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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