The Cairo Criminal Court decided on Tuesday to refer death sentences against 21 terror suspects to al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti, ahead of approving the decision on charges of joining an extremist group linked to the terrorist ISIS organization.
The trial against the 21 defendants is known as the “Damietta Terrorist Cell,” in reference to the coastal city of Damietta, north Egypt.
The Mufti’s religious decision, which will either approve or reject the death sentences, will be announced on February 22.
Counselor Shabib al-Damarany announced the verdict on Tuesday. The defendants are accused of joining an illegal terrorist group, targeting public and private facilities and plotting to assassinate military and police personnel.
The trial was based on the defendants’ confessions, including their admission of adopting ISIS ideologies and of targeting Christians.
In a related development, a high-ranking official at the Egyptian Interior Ministry told Egypt’s official MENA news agency that a security alert was sent to all sectors of the Ministry ahead of Christmas celebrations.
The source uncovered that “230,000 police officers are deployed across the state” to secure the country's Christmas celebrations, which start next week.
The ministry took all the necessary precautions to protect churches and it decided to close the area in front of churches to vehicle traffic as a security measure.
The source added that the security plans would include deployment of personnel and officers from all the ministry’s departments to protect 2,626 churches nationwide during the celebrations.
The sources also told MENA that "holidays and vacations were canceled for security personnel and officers at all security directorates across the country.”
In December 2016, a suicide attack targeted Cairo's St. Peter and St. Paul Church during a celebration mass, killing 29 people, mostly women and children.
Last April, during Palm Sunday celebrations, a horrific terror attack targeted two Christian churches in which at least 44 people were killed.