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Egypt Court Clears Islamic Militants

A CIVIL court cleared a group of Islamists Saturday of the 1990 murder of Egypt's parliamentary speaker, and the presiding judge accused police of torturing suspects to extract confessions.

"The conscience of Egyptian justice rejects that the police use all these ugly forms of torture. The court does not admit any evidence from the defendants extracted under torture," Judge Wahid Mahmoud Ibrahim told the packed court.

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The eight-judge panel in Cairo's High State Security Court found all 24 defendants not guilty of the murder of Rifaat Mahgoub, who was gunned down along with five bodyguards in October 1990.

The panel cleared 14 of the defendants on all charges. The remaining 10 were jailed for terms ranging from three to 15 years for possession of arms, forging documents, and related charges.

Those accused were members of the militant Gamaa Islamiya (Islamic Group), whose spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, has been detained in the US on immigration charges.

Mr. Mahgoub was the most important Egyptian to be assassinated since former President Anwar Sadat was killed in 1981.

The verdict will come as a blow for the government, which has increasingly resorted to the courts in its battle against Islamic militants seeking to set up a purist Islamic state. The sentences were in stark contrast to those passed by the military courts, which have held mass trials criticized by human rights groups. Several militants convicted by military courts have been executed in recent weeks. Somalia air show

Air traffic into Mogadishu's United Nations-controlled airport was briefly halted Saturday when United States attack helicopters staged exercises that could herald an attack on fugitive warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed.

About 15 helicopters took part in the exercises. Several practice runs have taken place since August 8, when gunmen ambushed a US military convoy in central Mogadishu and killed four US soldiers with what appeared to be a remote-controlled bomb that blew up their vehicle.

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President Clinton promised to take "appropriate action" against those who killed the four US soldiers - the worst casualties suffered by US forces since they arrived in Mogadishu last December.

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