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Egypt sentences Muslim man to death in church killings

Mohammed Ahmed Hassanein (center) was convicted in the killings last January of six Christians and a Muslim guard. Mohammed Ahmed Hassanein (center) was convicted in the killings last January of six Christians and a Muslim guard. (Victoria Hazou/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Hamza Hendawi
Associated Press / January 17, 2011

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CAIRO — An Egyptian court yesterday convicted and sentenced to death a Muslim man for killing six Christians and a Muslim security guard last year — the latest in a series of moves by authorities seeking to calm religious tensions after a massive suicide bombing outside a church two weeks ago.

The violence has raised fears of a deepening and potentially explosive Muslim-Christian divide in this key US ally, which is already beset by a widening income gap and frustration over government corruption and a lack of democratic reform.

Yesterday’s hearing was held in the southern city of Qena, where the trial began 11 months ago, amid tight security.

Chief defendant Mohammed Ahmed Hassanein, also known by his alias Hammam al-Kamouni, broke down on hearing the sentence read by presiding Judge Mohammed Fahmy Abdul-Maugoud. “I am a victim, I did not do it,’’ screamed Hassanein. He was convicted of first-degree murder and terror-related charges.

The State Security Court, whose rulings cannot be appealed, will announce next month verdicts for the other two defendants in the case, judicial officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information with the media.

Egypt’s government is scrambling to contain Christian anger after a Jan. 1 suicide bombing at a church in the port city of Alexandria that killed 21 worshipers.

The two attacks took place almost exactly a year apart and both struck worshipers leaving Mass in the days leading up to Orthodox Christmas, which Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority celebrates on Jan. 7.

Exacerbating Christian anger, an off-duty policeman boarded a train in southern Egypt last week and opened fire, killing a 71-year-old Christian man and wounding five others, including the man’s wife.

The shooting and the suicide bombing have sparked several Christian protests, some violent.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s estimated 80 million people, complain that cases of attacks against members of their community usually languish in the courts and police often turn a blind eye to discrimination or violence against them.

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