JOHANNESBURG, May 22– Forty-eight defendants have been referred to an Egyptian military court to face trial over three deadly church bombings in Egypt.
A statement released by Egypt’s Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek on Sunday said that in addition to being charged over the bombings, the 48 defendants would also be charged with being members of terrorist cells, affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) organisation, manufacturing weapons and explosives in addition to other charges.
The defendants are accused of being involved in the December 2016 suicide bombing on St Peter’s Church in Cairo that killed 29 worshippers, as well as the two Palm Sunday suicide bombings in April 2017 that killed 46 people at two Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria, the Egyptian daily Al Ahram reported.
The Palm Sunday bombings, which were claimed by the Islamic State militant group, were the deadliest attacks on Copts, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million, in the country’s recent history.
The day after the April attacks, the Egyptian interior ministry reported killing seven members of a terrorist cell, allegedly involved in the bombing, during a shootout in Upper Egypt’s Assuit governorate.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi declared a three month state of emergency following the attack.
Egypt has been fighting an insurgency in the restive Sinai Peninsula that has left hundreds dead on both sides of the divide.
The Sinai insurgency is an ongoing conflict between Islamist militants and Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula, which began after the start of the Egyptian crisis and led to the overthrow of long-time Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, in 2011.
The Sinai insurgency consisted of militants, largely composed of local Bedouin tribesmen, who exploited the chaotic situation in Egypt and weakened central authority to launch a series of attacks on government forces in Sinai.
Since 2011, the central authorities have attempted to restore their presence in the Sinai through both political and military measures. Egypt launched two military operations, known as Operation Eagle in mid-2011 and then Operation Sinai in mid-2012.
In May 2013, following an abduction of Egyptian officers, violence in the Sinai surged once again.
Following the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état, which resulted in the ousting of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, “unprecedented clashes” have occurred.
In 2014, elements of the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis group claimed allegiance to the Islamic State and proclaimed themselves as the Sinai Province.
Militant attacks continued into 2015. Security officials say militants based in Libya have established ties with Sinai Province.