In a massively defended suburban Army barracks, the trial of the 24 Moslem fundamentalists charged with the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat opened today with resounding chants of defiance by the defendants from their zoo-like courtroom cages.
"We did not act for the sake of life on earth nor for the homeland, but we sacrificed ourselves to God," the accused shouted out in unison, minutes before the three generals making up the special military tribunal filed into the cramped, high-ceilinged courtroom. "We struggled on earth, and we will die on earth for the sake of the glory of God."
The prosecution has asked for death sentences for all 24 defendants, although the massive 750-page indictment divides the accused into groups according to separate charges of being assassins, accomplices or conspirators. A summary of the indictment was read out in court after the accused, sitting in rows behind gray steel bars in four side-by-side cells, were informed of the charges against them.
The dramatic opening session lasted only about 90 minutes. The trial was then adjourned until Nov. 30 on defense counsel motions for more time to study the complex indictment in what one lawyer termed "this impossible case," and to give four of the defendants who alleged they had been denied proper medical treatment a chance to have full examinations.
One of the 24 defendants, student Abdel Assam Maged, was absent from the trial opening because he is still in hospital recovering from wounds received in a shoot-out when he was captured.
The defendants, ranging from an 18-year-old high school student to a 43-year-old blind mullah, alleged that they had been beaten and tortured in prison.
Many of the defendants interrupted presiding judge, Maj. Gen. Samir Attiya, to deny complicity in Sadat's murder, but they all seemed proud to be in the dock. They joked among themselves in their barred cages and winked and smiled at the dozen or so of their wives, wearing traditional veils, in the audience.
"I shot the pharaoh, I shot the pharaoh," one of the jubilant defendants shouted amidst the tumult in the tiny courtroom of the Supreme Military Tribunal at a military base in Nasr, a suburb of Cairo.
The most self-assured defendant was Lt. Khaled Ahmed Shawki Islambouli, a stocky, 24-year-old artillery officer. He stands accused of leading the four-man squad that jumped out of a military truck during a parade less than a mile from the courtroom and charged president Sadat's reviewing stand firing automatic weapons and grenades. Seven other people besides Sadat died in the Oct. 6 assassination, and 28 were wounded.
Peering out from behind the bars at relatives of the defendants in the courtroom -- one a teary-eyed, 8-year-old daughter of one of the accused -- Islambouli shouted, "I don't see any of my relatives. Have you arrested them all?"
Islambouli, the first to be read the charges against him, told the court he would refuse defense counsel because "Allah defends the faithful." He refused to wear his military uniform.
The three others said to have made up the assassination team repeated his position, but court-appointed attorneys were named for them. The three -- an engineer, a book-shop owner and a home guard sergeant who was once given the award of best marksman in the Egyptian Army -- were charged with "willful and premeditated murder."
The prosecution identified an engineer, Mohammed Abdel Salam Farag, 27, as ideologue behind the assassination.
Farag, an intense, bearded man, was charged with "complicity and instigation" on the grounds that his book, "Absent Duty," of which only 500 copies have been printed, served as the assassination plotters' ideological guide. The accusation said the book's "erroneous interpretations of Islamic laws" had "filled their hearts with lies" and incited them to "shed blood."
Farag interupted the proceedings to allege that his interrogators had beaten and made threats against the defendants' families. He told the court his 67-year-old father had been jailed.
"We were also all threatened that if we did not talk they would bring our wives and daughters and rape them in front of our eyes," he said as some of the other accused nodded in agreement.
The most forlorn-appearing of the defendants was clearly the man charged with being their "spiritual guide," the blind mullah, Sheik Omar Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a theology professor from Cairo's Al Azhar University. He has recently been a teacher at the city of Assyut, in the upper Nile delta, where many of the defendants came from and where a violent two-day insurrection broke out within two days of Sadat's killing.
The white-turbaned cleric knelt in prayer in his detention cage before the trial opened, then listened blankly to the proceedings, frequently asking military guards what was going on.
He is charged with giving his blessing to the assassination, when told about plans for it by the plotters, by responding with a cryptic, "It is Allah's will."
Of the remaining defendants, four are accused of being accomplices of the assassins and instigators of the Assyut rebellion. Fourteen others, led by an Army intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Aboud Abdel Latif Zourmor, who was in full uniform, allegedly provided the assassins with their ammunition.
The trial session officially was open to the public, but battle-dressed paratroopers with AK47 assault rifles closed the whole neighborhood around the barracks and only those with special passes were allowed in.