Thirty-six defendants were handed preliminary death sentences for charges related to the Palm Sunday and St. Peter and St. Paul Church bombings by a military court on Tuesday. A final verdict is expected on May 15, pending review by Egypt’s grand mufti.
The defendants are accused of carrying out an attack on the St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church in the Abbasseya neighborhood of Cairo in December 2016, as well as executing the twin Palm Sunday bombings, which targeted the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta and the St. Mark Orthodox Church in Alexandria in April 2017.
The prosecution charged the defendants with leading an Islamic State-affiliated group, forming two cells in Cairo and Qena, bombing the three churches, murder, attempted murder, attacking the Naqab checkpoint, killing security forces and seizing their weapons.
The court’s Tuesday ruling, in what has become known in the media as the Amr Saad Group case, coincided with the first anniversary of the Palm Sunday bombings. Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam has until May 15 to issue his recommendation regarding the military court’s ruling.
Thirteen of the defendants were sentenced in absentia, including Amr Saad, the leader of the Soldiers of the Caliphate, the Islamic State’s Egypt-affiliate outside the Sinai Peninsula. The other 23 defendants were present in court.
The Interior Ministry announced the identity of the Alexandria church bomber on April 12 last year, three days after the Palm Sunday bombings. According to the ministry’s statement, the attacker is a member of the same alleged terrorist cell that carried out the Abbasseya church attack in December 2016. The Interior Ministry also released the names of 19 suspects believed to have been involved in the church bombings in the same statement, and announced a LE100,000 reward for anyone with information on the suspects’ whereabouts.
On Tuesday, the Court of Cassation also overturned the death sentences and maximum security prison sentences issued in relation to the Warraq cell case, ordering the defendants’ retrial. The eight defendants were charged with possessing weapons, killing civilians and police personnel and joining a terrorist group. In February 2017, the Giza Criminal Court had issued death sentences to two defendants, life sentences to two others and five-year prison sentences to the remaining four.