Crime & Justice

Egypt sentences al-Farafra attackers to death

By Ahmed al-Sharqawi in Cairo

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Egyptian soldiers inspect the site of a July 19th, 2014, attack in which 22 border guards were killed, near al-Farafra oasis in the Western Desert. [AFP PHOTO/STR]

An Egyptian military court on Wednesday (October 11th) sentenced 13 defendants to death for taking part in a 2014 attack on a checkpoint in the Western Desert that killed at least 22 soldiers.

Two of the 13 defendants were present, the court said, while the others were sentenced in absentia for their role in the armed assault on a military checkpoint in al-Farafra oasis near the border with Libya, staged on July 19th, 2014.

The two defendants who were present for the trial will be able to appeal the sentence before another military court, the court said.

The defendants who are still at large will be re-tried once they are arrested or turn themselves in to the security authorities.

Last month, the military court referred the defendants’ cases to Egypt’s Grand Mufti for his non-binding approval of a preliminary death sentence, as required by Egypt’s penal code.

"Military sentences are part of the Egyptian law regarding attacks on army and police officers and vital facilities in the country," said Nasser Military Academy adviser Maj. Gen. Tharwat al-Nusairi.

"There are now two degrees of litigation before military courts, and convicts have the right to appeal the first judgement and be re-tried in case of deficiencies in the first judgement," he said.

Links with al-Qaeda

Investigations indicate that Hesham Ashmawi, a suspended Egyptian army officer who is now an emir of al-Mourabitoun, an extremist group in Libya affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is among the fugitives.

"Hesham Ashmawi, also known as Abu Omar al-Muhajir, tops Egypt’s most wanted list," al-Nusairi said.

Ashmawi fled Egypt after masterminding the al-Farafra attack, "and appeared in more than one video on social networking websites calling for combating the Egyptian army", he added.

Investigations indicate some of the defendants monitored al-Farafra checkpoint to determine the best time to attack it and to formulate an escape plan, he said.

They gathered details about armament and the numbers of personnel manning the checkpoint, and Ashmawi assigned them specific roles.

On the day of the assault, the defendants drove towards the checkpoint in four four-wheel drive vehicles mounted with machine guns, and attacked it, he said.

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