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HomeMiddle EastEgyptian Court Confirms Death Sentence for Ousted President Morsi

Egyptian Court Confirms Death Sentence for Ousted President Morsi

Video | Morsi Death Sentence Confirmed by Judge A judge in Egypt announced the confirmation of last month’s sentence of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
June 16, 2015

CAIRO — An Egyptian judge slammed the rule of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi as “a black night that lasted a whole year” and confirmed a death sentence against him on Tuesday, in a ruling that Mr. Morsi’s supporters said would make him into a martyr.

Mr. Morsi’s sentence was among more than 100 handed down last month by the same court after two sweeping mass trials, including dozens of sentences to death or life in prison. The confirmation on Tuesday was necessary because Egyptian law requires judges to seek the advice of Egypt’s official Muslim religious authority, the grand mufti, before finalizing sentences of capital punishment. The defendants now have the right to appeal through the courts.

Some analysts had speculated that Egyptian officials or the court might seek to reduce Mr. Morsi’s sentence to avoid a martyrdom that could inspire his supporters or other Islamists around the region. Instead, the resentencing on Tuesday was notable for the expansive and overtly political language the court used to explain its decision.

In both the mass trials, the charges carried political overtones from the start. One case charged that when Mr. Morsi was a political prisoner under President Hosni Mubarak, he and others escaped from extralegal detention during the 18-day uprising in 2011 against Mr. Mubarak’s rule. The other case charged that, after Mr. Mubarak was driven from office and Mr. Morsi was elected president, he and his Islamist allies conspired with foreign powers to commit espionage against Egypt.

Lawyers for Mr. Morsi had argued that the court had no jurisdiction over him because he was still Egypt’s legitimate president, despite the military takeover that removed him from power in 2013.

In response, Judge Shaaban el-Shami, who presided over a three-judge panel in the case, devoted much of his statement Tuesday to a defense of the takeover, while saying hardly anything about the specific evidence in the cases. The judge prefaced his announcement with a lengthy critical history of the Muslim Brotherhood, the 87-year-old Islamist revival movement that backed Mr. Morsi and dominated Egypt’s free elections.

Since the Brotherhood’s inception under the British-backed Egyptian monarchy, Judge Shami declared, the group has been “aiming to overturn the regime and to permit the spilling of blood between sons of the nation, as well as conspiring with foreign organizations outside the country, Egypt, to execute its diabolic satanic plans, under the cloak of religion and Islam, in violation of the law.”

After “the black night” of Mr. Morsi’s year in office, the judge said, “the dawn of human conscience arrived” with his ouster by the military in 2013. “All Egyptians came out, all over Egypt, demanding the building of a strong and cohesive Egyptian society that does not exclude any of its sons and currents, and ends the state of conflict and division,” he said, concluding that the military “sided with the sovereignty of the people.”

Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University who studies the Egyptian judicial system, said in an email that the verdicts in the two cases “endorse a conspiracy theory sufficiently odd that, if I were to hear it from a fellow passenger on the New York subway, I would quickly move to another car.” He called the court’s decision “a fundamental malfunction of the Egyptian state,” with the court accepting at face value the claims of the security services “after a hysterical media campaign fed by state bodies.”

Mr. Morsi watched impassively, perhaps with the hint of a smile, from inside a metal cage that is used in Egyptian courts to hold defendants.

The trial has been held in the same auditorium at the Police Academy in Cairo where Mr. Mubarak was tried while Mr. Morsi was president. Mr. Morsi was held in the cage with dozens of other defendants, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood. After the first session of Mr. Morsi’s trial, thick soundproof glass was installed around the cage to prevent the defendants from interrupting the proceedings by shouting or chanting.

The prison-break charges stemmed from the events of Jan. 28, 2011, in the last days of Mr. Mubarak’s rule, when the Egyptian police force collapsed in the face of huge demonstrations and the doors of the country’s jails were thrown open. Mr. Morsi, who at the time was a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the former chief of its parliamentary bloc, seemed to anticipate that he would be questioned about whether he was breaking the law by walking out.

As soon as he was free, he called Al Jazeera to say that he was not fleeing justice. “If there is an official in Egypt that wants to get in contact with us, we’re here, I’m here, the telephone is here,” he said, in comments broadcast by the television network. “We will never run away.”

Still, after he was overthrown, prosecutors charged that Mr. Morsi and others had escaped through an elaborate conspiracy involving both Hamas, the Sunni Muslim militant group in Gaza, and Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militant group in Lebanon. The prosecutors claimed that the two groups had sent hundreds of fighters to assault Egypt’s prisons.

Four other senior Brotherhood leaders who were jailed with Mr. Morsi also were sentenced to death in that case. One is Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s top spiritual leader. Mr. Badie and Mr. Morsi still face other pending criminal cases and possible death sentences.

In the espionage case, Mr. Morsi was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison, which in Egypt is understood to mean 25 years. He was accused of collaborating with foreign powers against Egypt while he was president. The court did not disclose what evidence it found to support the allegations.

In other political systems, the notion of an elected head of state committing espionage against his own government is almost self-contradictory, because the head of state is given broad latitude to decide what matters are state secrets and where the national interest lies.

Three other defendants in custody received death sentences in that case, including Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood’s top financier and strategist.

A number of defendants were tried and sentenced to death in absentia. One is Emad Shahin, a distinguished political scientist who now teaches at Georgetown University.

In a statement, Amr Darrag, an exiled leader of the Brotherhood’s political wing, called the sentences “a historical peak of the tragedy currently unfolding in Egypt.”

Yehia Hamed, another Brotherhood leader, said in the statement that the group continued to oppose the use of violence, but that the group was “extremely concerned that this repression — and today’s sentences — will lead some people to renounce nonviolent protest,” which “in turn strengthens the hand of ISIS and other extremist militant groups.”

merna thomas contributed reporting

By KATRIN BENNHOLD
June 16, 2015

LONDON — He was barely old enough to drive in Britain. But last Saturday, Talha Asmal, a 17-year-old high school student from West Yorkshire, apparently detonated a Toyota Land Cruiser full of explosives at an Iraqi security facility and became his country’s youngest known suicide bomber.

Mr. Asmal left his family home over the Easter holidays, just a few weeks shy of his final school exams, and traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State militant group. After the bombing about 20 miles outside the northern town of Baiji, home to Iraq’s largest oil refinery, social media accounts linked to the group announced the attack and posted a series of images that also featured Mr. Asmal, whose nom de guerre appeared to be Abu Yusuf al-Britani. The attack involved four vehicles striking different security targets and killed at least 10 people.

The British Foreign Office has not been able to confirm that Mr. Asmal was one of the suicide bombers, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. But members of his family in the West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury in northern England said in a statement that the bearded teenager in the Islamic State posts looked like their son.

Mr. Asmal’s parents described him as “loving, kind, caring and affable” and said they believed their son was radicalized on the Internet and in social media in the space of only a few months. They accused Islamic State leaders of cowardice for grooming their son to carry out their “dirty work.”

Like other Western countries, Britain has experienced the flight of hundreds of its young Muslims, many of them minors, to Syria, as schools and parents struggle to detect signs of a radicalization that often seems to happen largely online. Another recent case involved the departure of three schoolgirls from the Bethnal Green neighborhood in East London in February. Grainy security-camera images of the girls — ages 15 and 16 — confidently passing through airport security shocked the country.

Like the girls from Bethnal Green, Mr. Asmal did not go on his own. He traveled with a friend and neighbor, Hassan Munshi, also 17, and told his parents that he was going on a school trip, according to The Times of London. By the time the police issued an alert, it was too late: The two teenagers had already flown to a resort in eastern Turkey and then slipped across the border into Syria.

Mr. Munshi is nowhere to be found. Security officials say that the case of his older brother, Hammaad Munshi, may have contributed to the boys’ radicalization: He was convicted in 2008 at the age of 18 for his role in a plot to kill non-Muslims.

One of the images posted online by the Islamic State appears to show Mr. Asmal, wearing a black shirt and smiling broadly, standing next to a black Toyota with the Islamic State flag behind him. Another shows him sitting on the floor with an assault rifle on his lap.

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Saad Maan, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said the authorities were aware that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had claimed responsibility for the attack and had asserted that one of the bombers was a Briton. But he said Iraqi investigators had not established the identity of the bomber. He said the group frequently used foreigners as suicide bombers.

If Mr. Asmal’s role in the attack is confirmed, he will be the youngest known British suicide bomber to date. Hasib Hussain, also from West Yorkshire, was 18 when he blew himself up on a London bus as part of the coordinated attacks of July 7, 2005.

The Islamic State often recruits boys even younger. The group has been aggressive in indoctrinating children in the parts of Iraq and Syria it controls, opening camps for religious instruction and military training and posting photographs and videos referring to the boys as “the cubs of the caliphate.”

Sometimes, young recruits are given a choice: Become a suicide bomber or a fighter. Last year, a 14-year-old boy from Syria who was wearing a suicide vest turned himself in to the authorities in Baghdad.

The Islamic State is not the only exploiter of children in the upheaval gripping the region. Many of the Shiite militias in Iraq, for instance, include boys of 14 or 15 in their ranks; so do Sunni tribal groups fighting on the government’s side. This year, at an event in Amiriyat Fallujah, in Anbar Province, where Sunni tribesmen were being inducted into a government program to combat the militants, some of the recruits were as young as 14.

Mr. Asmal’s family lives in the same mainly Muslim neighborhood of Dewsbury where the leader of the July 7 attacks, Mohammad Sidique Khan, once lived. But they said their son had never exhibited “any violent, extreme or radical views” before he left.

The executive principal of his school, Lorraine Barker, spoke similarly of him to The Times of London. The paper quoted Ms. Barker calling Mr. Asmal “just a conscientious student” and saying there was “no indication whatsoever” that he was on a path toward violent extremism.

A spokesman for the office of Prime Minister David Cameron called the case “deeply concerning” and said the government wanted to work with social media companies to stop recruiters from targeting young people online.

Shahid Malik, a former lawmaker for the Dewsbury district and a family friend of the Asmals, said it was “disturbing” to see Mr. Asmal appear “at peace” in the photographs that purported to be taken just before the suicide mission.

“This is a clear indication of just how successful the evil ISIS groomers have been in poisoning and brainwashing Talha and kids like him,” Mr. Malik told the BBC.

“Mosques need to confront this evil ideology head-on,” he continued. “I would say that, up and down the country, that is not happening at the moment.”

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, speaking on Monday at a conference in Baghdad, said the Islamic State was “conducting an organized recruitment process of children” in more than 100 countries.

“Today, this organization is sending a message of fear and horror to the world,” he said. “One of their messages regarding childhood is to terrify us. They’re telling us, ‘Look — not just this generation, but also the next generation will be able to kill you.’ ”

The family’s statement suggested that the youth’s age and naïveté were “exploited by persons unknown who — hiding behind the anonymity of the World Wide Web — targeted and befriended Talha and engaged in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him.”

“As a result of this, and completely unbeknownst to us, his family, and entirely against our wishes, he ended up traveling, it seems, to Iraq,” the statement said, noting that “he was ordered to his death by so-called ISIS handlers and leaders too cowardly to do their own ‘dirty’ work.”

Standing out from the statement in bold text was this line: “ISIS. Not and never in our name.”

Omar al-Jawoshy contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Tim Arango contributed from Istanbul.

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(via NY Times)