An Egyptian state security court sentenced a Muslim man to death for killing six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police officer in a drive-by shooting on Coptic Christmas Eve in January 2010.
Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, 39, known as Hamam Kamouni, had been charged with the “premeditated murder” of the Christians and the police officer and with “intimidating citizens” in Nagaa Hamady in southern Egypt after mass on the eve of Coptic Christmas.
The judge said Hussein’s sentence would be sent to the Grand Mufti for confirmation, a reference to Egypt’s top religious authority who is called on to confirm death sentences, Reuters reports.
The court said Hussein’s two accomplices, Kurashi Abu Haggag and Hindawi Muhammed Sayyid, who were charged with aiding in the murder and possession of weapons, would be announced on February 20.
Christians account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population of about 80 million. Sectarian violence is rare, but disputes over issues including land rights or personal relationships occasionally erupt.
Last week a Muslim policeman was charged with shooting dead a Christian man on a train in the town of Samalut in southern Egypt and he will be tried for premeditated murder.
A New Year bombing outside a church in the port city of Alexandria killed 23 people and injured dozens in what analysts say was the worst attack on Christians in recent Egyptian history. The attack prompted protests by both Christians and Muslims.
The Nagaa Hamady shooting, in which nine Copts were injured, provoked protests by more than 1,000 local Copts.
Southern Egypt is much less developed than the capital Cairo. Nagaa Hamady, which has a large Coptic population, is about 60 km (40 miles) north of the tourist and archaeological centre of Luxor.
The referral of death sentences to the Grand Mufti is a procedural step that almost always results in confirmation of the sentence.