An Egyptian court has sentenced 26 people to death for conspiring to attack ships transiting the Suez Canal.
The defendants were accused and found guilty of “founding and leading a terror group that aimed to attack peoples freedom, damage national unity and attack the Suez Canal waterway” says an official statement by the Cairo Criminal Court.
This includes plans to attack ships passing the canal, security buildings, foreign tourists and local police.
A verdict was given after a single session. Only one defendant, less than 18 years old, managed to escape the death sentence.
The case has been passed on to the Grand Mufti, a top Muslim cleric who must approve all executions, with a final decision to be made on March 19th.
Defendants were charged in absentia. If and when they are finally caught, they will be allowed a re-trial. According to the Washington Post it is common for defendants to receive the death penalty when tried in absentia.
Terrorist activity along the canal has been on the increase in recent years, since the ousting of Egyptian president Hosri Mubarak in 2011. Tensions were only fuelled further by the forced expulsion of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi in July 2013 via military intervention.
Whilst the interim government has labelled the Muslim brotherhood as being associated with the attacks, the group, who officially renounced violence in the 1970’s, have denied any involvement.
Many of the attacks have been supposedly committed by Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, an al-Qaida linked organisation.
Another group, Furqan Bridgades made several claims in regards to attacks along the canal last year.*
It is unknown whether the convicted men in question are associated with either group.
However, according to Times of India, the trial covers a series of offences that happened before the Arab Spring uprising, at some time between 2004 and 2009.
According to the head of the Suez Canal Authority, despite the hostile climate, the canal earned nearly US$4.6 billion over the financial year spanning 2012 to 2013.