Egypt’s military prosecutor referred 176 alleged members of the Province of Sinai to military court on Tuesday, charging them with espionage and belonging to an illegal and unconstitutional group that aims to obstruct state institutions.
The prosecutor’s investigations indicated the defendants treated the lives and possessions of Copts with contempt, and planned to target 10 churches in Cairo and Giza, the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper reported.
The defendants also aimed to attack several public media and judicial figures, as well as representatives from Al-Azhar, within a plan to target the state, including the military, police and judiciary, Al-Shorouk added. They reportedly used Telegram messenger to communicate, making it hard for the authorities to track them.
The Province of Sinai evolved out of the Ansar Beit al-Maqdes militant group, which has been operating in Sinai since 2011, and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in November 2014.
According to TIMEP, the Province of Sinai claimed an average of 39 attacks a month in the first three quarters of 2016, compared to 21 a month throughout 2015. The majority of their operations targeted security forces, however 47 civilians were killed in the third quarter of 2016, double the reported amount in the second quarter.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on St. Peter and St. Paul Church near the main Coptic Cathedral in the heart of Cairo on December 11, which killed more than 25 people. Other attacks by the group outside Sinai have included: the bombing of a National Security Agency building in Shubra al-Kheima on August 21, 2015, a bomb at administrative offices affiliated with the Foreign Ministry on September 20, 2015, and the bombing of the Italian Consulate on June 11, 2015, among other operations.
Armed attacks on security forces have increased in North Sinai since the ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The Armed Forces has launched ongoing military operations in the area, aiming to eradicate militant groups. The media agency for the Islamic State declared responsibility on Tuesday for an attack in North Sinai on Monday that killed seven police personnel and one civilian.
The military judiciary’s reach has expanded significantly since the 2011 revolution to include a number of oppositional figures, with the 2014 Constitution mandating that civilians who constitute a direct threat to military installations or the Armed Forces be tried in military courts.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referenced statistics from TIMEP’s second quarterly report. It has been updated to reflect findings from the third quarterly report.