Cairo Criminal Court decided on Monday to refer the preliminary death sentences issued against 10 Islamists to the grand mufti for his non-legally binding opinion on the cases. The defendants face charges of forming a terrorist cell in a case known as “Zawahiri cell.”
The final verdict is scheduled for September 27.
The case involves 68 defendants, including leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) organization Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. However, state-owned Al-Ahram reported that Zawahiri is not among those whose cases were referred to the mufti.
The defendants face charges of forming a terrorist organization linked to Al-Qaeda that aims to target state institutions, the police, the military, citizens and Copts. Investigations allegedly revealed that Zawahiri took advantage of the country’s current political turmoil to restructure EIJ and collaborate with other terrorist organizations under the administration of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
Zawahiri was arrested two days after the violent dispersal of Rabea protest camp in August 2013.
Two days before Morsi’s ouster, the Isalmist leader said on his official Facebook page that he is closely following up with political developments and that he “would only intervene at the right time, according to what the Sharia truthfully dictates.”
Zawahiri, 62, is among 14 people subject to CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. As part of this program, Zawahiri was brought back to Egypt and faced a military trial in a case known as “Returnees from Albania” in 1998. The trial involved many Jama’a al-Islamiya and EIJ leaders, who represented the cornerstone of Islamist militancy against the Egyptian state in the 1990s. Zawahiri was tried in absentia in the case and received a death sentence.
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) released Zawahiri in March 2011, two months after the January 25 revolution. He was then re-arrested by Egyptian authorities for his conviction in 1998.
He was referred to another military trial to re-assess the procedural grounds of his conviction, before being released in March 2012 and cleared of all charges.
Since Morsi’s ouster, Egypt has witnessed a wave of harsh court convictions against supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood organization. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders have received death sentences after being convicted of prison break and espionage in 2015.