An Egyptian court sentenced 14 members of an extremist Islamic group to death on Monday for killing eight Egyptians, including seven policemen, in an attack in the northern Sinai town of El-Arish in June 2011.

The convicted men belong to a jihadist group called Al-Tawhid wal Jihad. The court in Ismailia also sentenced five other members of the group to life imprisonment, while four additional suspects were acquitted. Another suspect died in custody before the verdict.

According to reports in the Egyptian press, the members of the terror cell entered the police station at El-Arish and opened fire indiscriminately, using both rifles and RPGs. The dead and wounded included policemen and innocent passersby.

The accused also stole weapons and ammunition from the police station.
In the verdict the judges wrote that the members of the cell had operated out of terrorist motives and to harm Egyptian national security.

The courtroom in Ismailia was secured by hundreds of policemen and other security personnel, who were deployed within the courtroom and around it. Immediately after the verdict was handed down, yelling and accusations were traded between the families of the victims and the families of the accused, who belong to various Islamist groups that operate in the Sinai.

The accused had declared from the docket that Israeli intelligence had been responsible for the explosions in the police station, and that they had been acting to preserve the revolution.

They also condemned Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the judges for not governing or adjudicating according to Muslim Sharia law, but according to an invalid system of civil law.

As the verdict was announced in the morning, Egyptian media reported that a convoy of tanks and armored personnel carriers was seen en route to the Sinai Peninsula. The assessment was that this was a continuation of Operation Eagle, an Egyptian military campaign against insurgents in the Sinai that was launched following an attack on a border police post in Rafah last month that killed 16 Egyptian border policemen.