- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

HUCKSTEP, Egypt A military court yesterday sentenced 51 Islamists to between two years in prison and 15 years of incarceration with hard labor in connection with a purported plot to stage a coup in Egypt.

The court at the desert military barracks just north of Cairo acquitted 43 others, including one of six who were fugitives and tried in absentia.

Defense lawyers said they were "shocked" at what they described as heavy sentences for a case they said was built around fund-raising activities for popular Islamic militant causes against Israel and Russia.

The scores of defendants who appeared in the courtroom reacted silently to the verdict, while family members of those convicted, including women dressed in black robes and veils, implored God as the only judge.

The prosecution has charged that the group was involved in collecting funds for Islamic militant training camps abroad, which would in return teach them how to commit terrorist acts in preparation for a coup d'etat.

At previous hearings, state security officers said the defendants had confessed they discussed plots to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and prominent religious and cultural figures, as well as attacks on strategic buildings, including Cairo's television center.

The judge, who read the verdict in a hearing that lasted five minutes, did not make clear who was convicted of which offense.

Three were sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor, including 36-year-old Omar Hajaiev Mehdi Mohammed, a native of the southern Russian republic of Dagestan.

The two others were Magdi Hassan Idriss Mohammed, 33, an owner of a gym, and Omar Abdel Aziz Khalifa Ibrahim, 36.

Three defendants were condemned to seven years in jail with hard labor, and the remainder were given sentences of between five years with hard labor and two years in prison.

The trial began in November.

Most of the defendants were Egyptian, but three were from Dagestan and another from Yemen. One had dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship and one had dual Canadian-Egyptian citizenship, while others held German and Dutch passports.

Among those acquitted was the main defendant, Nashaat Ahmed Mohammed Ibrahim, a Muslim sheik in a Cairo mosque. The court said the funds he collected were conveyed to charity only, not to political groups.

Defense lawyers have said the group may have raised money for Islamic causes abroad, including the Palestinians, but was not likely to have seriously considered committing any act of violence inside Egypt.

They had argued the case was not backed by hard evidence and largely based on confessions taken by the arresting officers.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights appealed to Mr. Mubarak not to ratify the jail verdicts because "they were taken by a military court against civilians."

Human rights activists here say that since the terror attacks of September 11 on the United States, Egyptian authorities are increasingly resorting to military courts to deal with Islamists.

Verdicts of military courts usually are delivered swifter than those handed down by civilian tribunals, and they can not be appealed, though the president of Egypt has to endorse them and can overturn them.

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