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Apr 16, 2:21 PM EDT

Egypt Islamist sentenced to 7 years for forgery

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AP Photo/Amr Nabil
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CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian court convicted an ultraconservative Islamist and ally of ousted President Mohammed Morsi of forging official documents to conceal that his mother was a U.S. citizen, and sentenced him Wednesday to seven years in prison.

The case against Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, a lawyer turned TV preacher, dates back to his failed 2012 presidential bid. Abu-Ismail was at one point seen as a strong contender in the race, riding in part on his popularity as a preacher. Allegations about his mother's citizenship ultimately derailed his campaign hopes, although he remained a popular figure, particularly among young Islamists.

Wednesday's verdict, which can be appealed, brought an end to a tumultuous trial, during which the presiding judge slapped Abu-Ismail with two additional one-year sentences after twice finding him in contempt of court. Abu-Ismail had refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the court or accept legal representation, and he often argued with the judge during the proceedings.

During his 2012 campaign, Abu-Ismail submitted forged documents to the elections commission and was disqualified after it emerged that his late mother had U.S. citizenship. Egyptian law bars anyone whose parents hold any other nationality from running for president, and Abu-Ismail denied the allegations.

Authorities arrested Abu-Ismail days after Egypt's military overthrew Morsi on July 3, 2013 following mass protests. Since then, authorities have conducted a sweeping crackdown against the former Islamist leader's supporters and allies, detaining at least 16,000 people, including Morsi himself. Many now face criminal charges.

Morsi also was in court Wednesday, where he is on trial with 35 co-defendants on charges of conspiring with foreign groups to destabilize Egypt. During the session, the court reviewed evidence presented by the prosecutors, including reports by the state security agency and the general intelligence service, and pictures of alleged members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood during a visit to the Gaza Strip.

Clips from the trial were recorded and broadcast later on state TV. One of the segments showed a man the prosecutors alleged was a defendant in the case, Khalil Osama el-Aqeed, holding a rocket propelled grenade and firing it while receiving instructions and training allegedly in Gaza from a man off camera who speaks in a Palestinian accent.

In court, el-Aqeed denied he was the man in the video. "This is not me. I said this in the interrogation," he shouted from the cage where the defendants were being held.

Another picture purportedly showed el-Aqeed carrying a machine gun inside a smuggling tunnel between Egypt and Gaza, according to Egypt's state news agency MENA.

Other clips showed Brotherhood leaders discussing coordination between the organization and the group's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. While in power, the Brotherhood denied it was getting involved in the party's affairs.

Morsi, who was Egypt's first democratically elected president, was also in the courtroom cage Wednesday. He was silent most of the time, but occasionally flashed a smile as he watched the videos.

One of Morsi's senior aides, Essam el-Haddad, who has been in detention since July 3, insisted to the court that he was "kidnapped" and that his detention was unlawful.

Morsi and his supporters have refused to acknowledge the military-backed government that took power after the army removed Morsi from office. Brotherhood supporters and other Islamists have held near-daily protests that have often turned bloody following crackdowns from security agencies.

With most of the Brotherhood's leadership in prison, students have been at the forefront of the protest movement. On Wednesday, clashes erupted inside the Islamist al-Azhar university in Cairo, and professors urged students to vacate Ain Shams university, amid demonstrations by pro-Morsi students.

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