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Apr 20, 12:46 PM EDT

Egypt court sentences 22 to death over 2013 attack on police



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CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian criminal court on Monday sentenced 22 people to death after convicting them of storming a police station outside Cairo and killing an officer on July 3, 2013 - the day the military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president.

The ruling was the latest action against alleged supporters of the ousted Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood group has faced a violent government crackdown. After Morsi's one-year rule ended, the Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist organization.

Morsi himself faces a verdict on Tuesday over accusations he was responsible for the killing of protesters while president. The ruling will be the first in several ongoing trials against him.

The Giza court said eight of the condemned were sentenced in absentia on charges that included murder, attempted murder, possession of unlicensed firearms, destruction of property and vandalism. The ruling, which can be appealed, also sentenced a minor involved in the case to 10 years.

The attack took place in Kerdasa, a restive town on the western outskirts of Cairo near the Giza Pyramids. Kerdasa is considered a militant stronghold and gunmen and rampaging crowds have killed policemen there in other acts of violence. In the largest incident, 11 policemen were killed and their bodies mutilated in August 2013. That September, gunmen killed a police general during a raid.

Egypt has been sharply criticized for issuing mass death sentences largely targeting Islamists. Over 22,000 people have been arrested since Morsi's ouster, including most of the Brotherhood's top leaders, as well as large numbers of others swept up by police during pro-Morsi protests.

Also Monday, a roadside bomb hit an armored vehicle in the northern Sinai Peninsula, killing three soldiers, Egypt's official news agency said. MENA reported that the attack was carried out by Islamic extremists early in the day near the border town of Rafah. The team in the armored vehicle was searching for explosives.

Militant attacks, mainly targeting Egyptian security forces, have spiked since Morsi's overthrow, which came after massive protests against his rule.

Most of the largest attacks have been carried out in northern Sinai and were claimed by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group. At least 14 people, mostly soldiers, were killed in a wave of attacks in northern Sinai last week.

Later Monday, the Brotherhood condemned Morsi's trial, accusing the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led Morsi's overthrow, of "exploiting the judiciary as a weapon." In a statement from its press office in London, the Brotherhood also called on Egyptians to demonstrate in the streets in Morsi's defense.

"If the military junta and its loyal judges do not stop trampling the will of the people and their right to choose their leaders, disastrous consequences may indeed push the country into a dark tunnel," the statement said.

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