ISMAILIYA, Egypt (AP) – A state security court on Thursday condemned to death three Islamic militants convicted of taking part in the suicide attacks on Taba and another Sinai resort that killed 34 people in 2004.
Three members of the “Tawhid and Jihad” militant group, Younes Mohammed Mahmoud, Osama al-Nakhlawi and Mohammed Jaez Sabbah, were convicted and sentenced to death for terrorism, murder, illegal possession of weapons, and belonging to a terrorist group.
Eleven Israelis were killed and more than 100 people wounded in the bombings, which destroyed a wing of the Taba Hilton hotel in October 2004. The blasts included the explosion of a vehicle at Ras Shitan, a Red Sea resort south of Taba.
The attacks shocked Egypt, which had enjoyed a respite from terrorism since the 1997 Luxor massacre. The government said the bombings were part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because the alleged mastermind, Ayad Said Saleh, who died in the attacks, was a Palestinian resident of Sinai and about a third of the fatalities were Israelis. But Taba was followed by similar suicide bombings at the Sinai resorts of Sharm el-Sheik in July 2005 and Dahab in April this year. The three attacks, which killed a total of about 120 people, indicated there was al-Qaeda-inspired group operating in Sinai.
The government says the Sinai militants are locals who do not have international connections, but Israeli security officials have said they suspect al-Qaeda played a part in the attacks.
The court in Ismailiya, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Cairo, sentenced two other defendants to life imprisonment. Another eight defendants received sentences ranging from 15 years to five years in prison for playing lesser roles in the attacks. A defense lawyer, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, criticized the sentences as being “unjust.”
In state security courts, the accused do not have the right of appeal. They may appeal for clemency only to President Hosni Mubarak.
There are several Middle East groups calling themselves “Tawhid and Jihad”, Arabic for Monotheism and Holy War. The al-Qaeda in Iraq group was initially named Tawhid and Jihad.
The Egyptian version of Tawhid and Jihad claimed responsibility for the Sharm el-Sheik bombings, which killed 63 people, saying it acted on orders from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But this claim was one of several from competing groups.