The Giza Criminal Court held Monday the first trial session of 20 alleged members of extremist group Ajnad Misr, one of several Islamist groups facing prosecution in Egypt on charges of terrorism.
The trial was attended by Montaser Al-Zayat, a prominent lawyer who has been defending Islamist groups since their rise in the 1980s. Al-Zayat is the lawyer of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
The defendants are charged with planting explosives in 20 separate incidents, causing the deaths of six police personnel, attempting to murder citizens and officers, and targeting public institutions and police checkpoints.
Fourteen of the defendants were present in court while the other six are being tried in absentia.
State media reported that the investigations indicate the group started activities after the mass protests of 30 June 2013, where they attacked different police stations and checkpoints in Cairo and Giza.
On its social media page, the group claimed responsibility for several bomb attacks against police officers, causing a number of deaths and serious injuries. Their strategy includes vowing to attack a target, followed by the release of teasers and either a video documenting the operation or a statement narrating the attack.
Their social media page posts propaganda videos of different attacks on female protesters, and students. The group has been designated by Egypt and the US as a terrorist organisation.
The group asserts it follows Islam only and “not any group of movement inside Egypt or outside”. It also accused the Egyptian state of “killing Muslims”.
However, Ajnad Misr is not the only radical Islamist group that is being prosecuted by the Egyptian state on charges of terrorism.
A group by the name Jond Allah had eight of its members referred to military court Saturday, after being accused of attacking security forces.
The small militant group, who is not active on social media, was formed in mid-2014, state news reported. Supreme State Security prosecution claims that the group’s leader, Mohamed Ibrahim Ali Shafea, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
The name of the group suggests its Islamist inclination; however there is no primary material that explains its objectives.
Military tribunals often include secret sessions, with some defendants citing difficulties to present their argument to the judge.
Another high profile group with members on trial is Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. The group now calls itself “State of Sinai” in response to a call made by IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, to whom the group officially pledged allegiance last year.
The prosecution accused the group of committing 51 terrorist crimes, leaving 40 policemen and 15 civilians dead and 348 injured.
Charges include: the attempted assassination of Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim; the assassination of Homeland Security Officer Mohamed Mabrouk, the lead witness in the Wadi Al-Natrun case in which former president Mohamed Morsi is accused of spying for the Gaza Strip governing movement Hamas; the assassination of Mohamed Al-Saied, head of the Minister of Interior’s technical office, who was shot and killed by unknown militants; and the deadly bombings of the security directorates of Cairo, Daqahleya and South Sinai.
Investigations also showed that the defendants embraced the Muslim Brotherhood’s radical ideology. The defendants also planned to “attack security points surrounding the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit in, as well as target police officers working for the Homeland Security apparatus”.
A lawyer close to the case told Daily News Egypt that the next trial session will take place on 4 April.
State of Sinai, who the government still calls Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, is a part of the major militant insurgency in Sinai, which left hundreds of security personnel killed.
Due to the lack of independent media coverage from Sinai, all news about the confrontations in the region comes from statements by the armed forces spokesperson, and social media posts and videos of the militant group.
As for the Al-Ansar wa Al-Mujahedeen, the court upheld a death sentence for militant Adel Habara and six other militants in the “second Rafah massacre” case. The defendants were charged with the killing of 25 police conscripts in an ambush on a police convoy in August 2013 in the Abu Tawila region, along the international Al-Arish/Rafah road.
Another 22 defendants received 15 years in prison. They are charged with committing “terrorist acts” in Northern Sinai and Cairo, and collaborating with the extremist group Al-Qaeda.
The ”second Rafah massacre” occurred in August 2013, following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi. Habara, allegedly a leading member in the “Ansar and Mujahideen” jihadist group, was arrested by North Sinai Security Forces last year in Al-Arish, where he was in hiding.
He had earlier been sentenced to death in absentia for participating in the 2005 Dahab and Taba bombings, which were claimed by Al-Qaeda.
Other cases involve many suspected Islamist militants who are suspected to be behind the rise in terrorism in Egypt. The violence increased following the July 2013 ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, but has been gathering pace in 2015.