Egyptian Court Condemns 3 Militants
Thursday, November 30, 2006; 3:56 PM
ISMAILIYA, Egypt -- A state security court Thursday convicted and sentenced to death three Islamic militants for their role in a suicide attack that killed 34 people at tourist resorts in the Sinai town of Taba in 2004.
The three belonged to the militant group Tawhid and Jihad, which Egyptian security officials and prosecutors say carried out two other bombings against Sinai resorts that killed another 87 people _ Sharm el-Sheik in July 2005 and Dahab in April.
Israeli security officials have said they suspect al-Qaida played a part in the attacks. The name Tawhid and Jihad _ Arabic for Monotheism and Holy War _ has been used by militant groups in several countries sympathetic or directly linked to the terrorist network. The name was initially used by the group al-Qaida in Iraq.
The Egyptian government, however, says the Sinai militants are local Islamic extremists who do not have international connections. The trial did not look into the suspects' alleged al-Qaida link.
The three top defendants, Younes Mohammed Mahmoud, Osama al-Nakhlawi and Mohammed Jaez Sabbah, were convicted and sentenced to death for terrorism, murder, illegal possession of weapons, and belonging to a terrorist group in connection to the Taba attack.
The security court in Ismailiya, 75 miles east of Cairo, sentenced two other defendants to life imprisonment and eight others to between five and 15 years in prison for their roles in the Taba, Sharm and Dahab bombings.
The October 2004 bombings targeted the Taba Hilton hotel, near the Israeli border, and a nearly simultaneous blast went off in the nearby Red Sea resort of Ras Shitan. Eleven Israelis were among the 34 killed.
The Taba attack shocked Egypt, which had enjoyed a respite from terrorism since the 1997 Luxor massacre.
The government initially said the bombings were linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because the alleged mastermind, Ayad Said Saleh, who died in the attacks, was a Palestinian resident of Sinai and about a third of the fatalities were Israelis.
But the Sharm and Dahab bombings that followed _ and did not specifically target Israelis _ pointed to a wider militant group operating in the Sinai.
The defendants mostly came from the impoverished towns of northern Sinai, which benefit little from the tourist wealth of southern Sinai's resorts and which have seen a rise in Islamic radicalism.
Egyptian officials have painted the Sinai attacks as an attempt to damage the country's vital tourism industry, Egypt's top hard-currency generator that brought in $6.4 billion last year. Each bombing prompted an initial wave of tourists fleeing the country, although the effect has been relatively limited.
After Wednesday's verdict, defense lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam denounced the sentences as "unjust."
In state security courts, the accused do not have the right of appeal; they may appeal for clemency only to President Hosni Mubarak. Several of the defendants said they were tortured to give confessions.
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the oldest rights advocate in the country, said the trial before a state security court was illegal because it deprived the accused of their right to appeal. The group called for a retrial before an ordinary court.
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.