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Egypt sentences two to death over church attack in 2017

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Egyptian judge Mohammed Fahmy (C) reads out the life sentence against Muslim Brotherhood businessman Hassan Malek (not seen in the picture) during the final session of his trial in Cairo on April 30, 2019. (AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)
An Egyptian court on Sunday sentenced two men to death and eight others to between three years and life in prison over an attack on a church and Christian-owned shop in Cairo that killed 10 people.

A gunman opened fire in December 2017 on Christians in a shop in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan, killing two people, before firing on the entrance to the nearby Mar Mina church, where he killed seven Christian worshippers and a policeman.

The emergency state security court sentenced the main suspect, who is in custody, and another suspect, who is on the run, to death.

Two defendants were handed life sentences, four were given four years in prison and two were handed three years in jail. One suspect was acquitted and two others are still at large.

The authorities had said the gunman was wounded by security forces during the attack. ISIS claimed responsibility.

The main suspect appeared in court on Sunday wearing death row prison clothes, having also been handed two death sentences in military trials after being convicted of attacking military buildings.

The main suspect embraced the other defendants in the court after the verdict. Under Egypt’s state of emergency law, the defendants can appeal to have the sentence by the security court reduced.

In November, militants killed seven people when they attacked a bus returning from a baptism in the governorate of Minya.

Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have been targeted by militants in recent years.

A gunman killed at least 11 people on Dec. 29 in attacks on a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo before he was wounded and arrested, the Egyptian Interior Ministry and church officials said.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a statement carried out by its Amaq news agency, though it provided no evidence for the claim.

Police have stepped up security measures around churches ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations on Jan. 7, deploying officers outside Christian places of worship and setting up metal detectors at some of the bigger churches.

Islamist militants have claimed several attacks on Egypt’s large Christian minority in recent years, including two bombings on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral in December 2016 that killed 28 people.

Earlier reports by security sources and state media said at least two attackers were involved in Friday’s attack, and that one was shot dead and another fled the scene. The Interior Ministry did not explain the reason for the different accounts.

The Coptic Church said the gunman first shot at a Christian-owned shop 4 km away, killing two people, before proceeding to the Mar Mina church in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan. The Interior Ministry said he opened fire at the entrance to the site and tried to throw an explosive device.

The gunman killed at least nine people, including a policeman, at the church, according to Interior Ministry and Coptic Church accounts. The Church said a young woman had died later from her wounds, bringing the civilian death toll at the church to eight.

The ministry said security forces had “immediately dealt with the (attacker) and arrested him after he was wounded.” It added, “Legal measures have been taken,” without elaborating.
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