Egypt sentences 8 to death in police killings

:: An Egyptian criminal court has preliminarily sentenced eight people to death over charges of murder during an attack on a police station in a Cairo suburb in 2013.

Saturday’s ruling referred the case to the grand mufti — the country’s top theological authority — to solicit his non-binding opinion on the sentences, a formality in cases of capital punishment.

The court will issue final sentences on Oct. 10 in the case which involves a total of 68 defendants.

The attack, which killed six police officers, followed the deadly dispersal by security forces in August 2013 of two Cairo sit-in protests staged by supporters of former President Mohammed Mursi, ousted a month earlier by the military after one year in office.

At least 600 Mursi supporters were killed on that day.

On Wednesday, Egypt established a national council for combating terrorism, giving it broad authority to set policies aimed at “fighting extremism,” a presidential decree stated.

Egypt has been battling a Daesh-led insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of soldiers and police officers since 2013, though attacks have increasingly moved into the mainland in recent months.

After two deadly church bombings earlier this year claimed by Daesh that killed at least 44 people, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi declared a state of emergency and pledged to establish a national council that would root out extremism.

El-Sisi has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the Middle East, but human rights activists say he has quashed freedoms and suppressed the political opposition since he was elected in 2014.

The decree set up “the National Council to Confront Terrorism and Extremism aimed at mobilizing institutional and societal resources in order to curtail the causes of terrorism and treat its effects.”

The council is chaired by El-Sisi and includes the head of Parliament, the prime minister, the head of Al-Azhar, and several ministers.

It is tasked with formulating a “comprehensive national strategy” to combat terrorism and “proposing amendments to existing legislation,” as well as creating job opportunities in areas with high levels of extremism and promoting moderate religious discourse, the decree stated.

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