Court acquits two suspects in Naga Hammadi Christmas attack

The Egyptian Emergency State Security Court today acquitted the remaining two suspects in the 2010 Naga Hammadi shootings, judicial sources said.

The shootings–which took place on Coptic Christmas Eve in 2010–led to the death of six Copts and a Muslim guard during celebrations at a church in Naga Hammadi in Upper Egypt.

Attorney-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud had referred all three suspects–Hamam al-Kammouni, Qorashi Abul Haggag and Hendawi al-Sayyed–to the Emergency State Security Court charged with planning the murder in the Qena governorate city, 600km south of Cairo.

The general prosecutor called for the imposition of the harshest penalties on the perpetrators of the attack, and the first suspect was sentenced to death in mid January this year.

The trial sparked considerable controversy, as it is the first time in decades defendants in a sectarian case have been referred to the Emergency State Security Court. The court's verdicts can be appealed only by Egypt's president.

The decision was well-received by Copts, who have long accused the government of laxity in addressing sectarian issues.

The defendants were charged with using force to disrupt public order and intimidate citizens, with the premeditated murder of seven people, illegal possession of fire arms, the attempted murder of nine others, and voluntarily damaging fixed and liquid assets.

Rights organizations, meanwhile, have warned that the Egyptian government uses sectarian incidents as a pretext for extending Emergency Law, in force since 1981.

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