Middle East

Man sentenced to death in Egypt over Copt killings

Mohamed Ahmed Hussein on trial in Qena, Egypt (16 Jan 2010)
Image caption Mohamed Ahmed Hussein was found guilty of pre-meditated murder

Egypt has sentenced a man to death for killing six Coptic Christians and a Muslim policeman in January 2010.

Mohamed Ahmed Hussein was found guilty of shooting the group outside a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas in Naga Hamady, southern Egypt.

The attack was thought to be revenge for the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man.

The court ruling comes two weeks after a suicide bomber killed 23 people at a Coptic church in Alexandria.

Hussein, also known as Hamam Kamouni, was found guilty of "pre-meditated murder" of the seven dead and with "intimidating citizens", AFP news agency reports.

Two other men are also on trial for the shooting. The court said the verdict against them would be announced next month. All three pleaded not guilty.

Anba Kirolos, the Coptic bishop of Naga Hammady, said his congregation were "satisfied" with the ruling, AFP reports.

But defence lawyer Alaa Abu Zeid said the trial had been influenced by the Alexandria attack.

Little progress

Coptic Christians make up 10% of Egypt's 80 million population.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the case has caused continued bitterness in the community, partly because of the delay in bringing the men to justice but also because of Hussein's alleged links to a senior MP in the ruling party.

Egypt's Copts have often complained of harassment and discrimination, and argue that attacks on them go unpunished or result in light sentences.

Coptic churches in Egypt have been on high alert since the 6 January bombing.

Twenty-three people were killed and 70 injured as worshippers were leaving midnight Mass at al-Qiddissin church to bring in the New Year.

The attack was condemned in Egypt and abroad - President Hosni Mubarak said it bore the hallmark of "foreign hands" seeking to destabilise Egypt.

No group has said it carried out the attack and there has been little progress in the investigation, says our correspondent.

The government denies discriminating against Copts but the head of the Church, Pope Shenouda III, has urged officials to do more to address their concerns.

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