Egypt: 26 sentenced to death over Suez 'terror plot'

Egyptian soldiers in the capital, Cairo (20 February 2014) Judges accused the defendants of inciting violence against the army and police

An Egyptian court has sentenced 26 people to death for founding a "terror group" with the aim of attacking ships using the Suez Canal.

Judges said the men were also accused of manufacturing missiles and explosives, local media report.

The defendants were tried in absentia, Reuters news agency says.

The sentencing comes a day after the new Prime Minister designate, Ibrahim Mahlab, vowed he would "crush terrorism in all the corners of the country".

Mr Mahlab has been put in charge of forming a new government following Monday's surprise resignation of interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi and his cabinet.

Mr Beblawi was appointed in July 2013 after the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi in the wake of mass protests.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed and thousands of others detained in a crackdown by the security forces on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement to which Mr Morsi belongs.

Militants based in the Sinai peninsula have meanwhile stepped up attacks on government, police and the armed forces, killing hundreds.

'Harmed unity'

In Wednesday's verdict, the court said the accused had harmed "national unity", inciting violence against the army, police, and Christians.

The case will now be referred to the mufti, Egypt's top Islamic official, who has to validate the sentence.

The final verdict is expected on 19 March.

No further details were available about the group on trial, AFP reported.

In a separate development, Mr Mahlab has begun reappointing several ministers in his new government.

Supporter waves flag of Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo (16 February 2014) Army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has been reappointed as defence minister in the new government

They include Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, who will keep his post as defence minister.

Despite his reappointment, the army chief is widely expected to announce soon that he will step down from his two posts and run for president.

According to the new constitution approved in January, an election must take place by mid-April.

Correspondents say Field Marshal Sisi would be likely to win, given his popularity and the lack of any serious rivals.

The departing government is the fifth since the 2011 uprising which led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Beblawi did not give a clear reason for his cabinet's resignation on Monday.

He had been criticised in local media for his perceived indecisiveness and inability to deal with the country's economic woes.

The new prime minister designate was a senior official in Mr Mubarak's former ruling party, and was appointed to the now-disbanded upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, in 2010.

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