Preliminary death sentences were handed to 30 defendants accused of involvement in the 2015 assassination of former General Prosecutor Hesham Barakat on Saturday. A final verdict is expected on July 22, pending review by Egypt’s grand mufti.
The decision, issued by the Cairo Criminal Court, follows 36 court sessions spanning a year since the trial began in June 2016.
There are a total of 67 defendants initially accused in the case, 51 of whom have been standing trial, while 16 have been tried in absentia.
Different charges have been brought before the defendants, according to the order which referred the trial to the Cairo Criminal Court. Accusations include complicity in the assassination of former General Prosecutor Hesham Barakat, responsibility for the other deaths and injuries resulting from the attack and affiliation to an outlawed organization, in this case alleged to be the Muslim Brotherhood and its militant wings. They are also charged with obstructing the provisions of the Constitution, obstructing state institutions from performing their functions, contacting Palestinian political movement Hamas and coordinating with them to conduct terrorist operations within Egypt.
They face additional criminal charges including the detonation of a bomb inside the Azbekiya Police Station’s garage, the killing of police personnel within the garage and attempting to blow up a Central Security Forces training camp in the town of Abu Kabir, in Sharqiya.
During interrogations by the State Security Prosecution, the chief defendants are reported to have confessed in detail to the planning and execution of Barakat’s assassination.
According to the prosecution’s findings, which are outlined in the defendants’ referral to trial, the confessions also mention their involvement in forming a specialized militant cell affiliated with an armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
One of the chief defendants, Yehia Moussa, is said to have headed the militant cell, coordinated between individual members, facilitated their training and provided logistical support during operations, including Barakat’s assassination.
Another, Mahmoud al-Ahmady, reportedly claimed responsibility for preparing the explosive device used in the assassination.
Abul Qassem Youssef is said to have confessed to providing the cell with logistical support, accompanying Ahmady during the operation and filming it.
However, in the most recent interrogation before the State Security Prosecution the defendants refuted their earlier confessions, claiming they were forced to make them under duress. They said they were subjected to torture and threats at the hands of the interrogating officers before prosecutors began investigations on the record. Reports issued by prosecutors and forensic authorities noted the presence of injuries and bruises on the defendants’ bodies.
The most recent court sessions have sparked further controversy, particularly after one defense lawyer claimed his client Gamal Khairy is effectively blind, and could not have been involved in the assassination during an April hearing. The Cairo Criminal Court requested that Khairy undergo a medical examination, which, according to the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm Newspaper, revealed that he was blind. However, prosecutors continue to claim that the defendant is able to see and read.
Seven Palestinians are also implicated in the case. According to trial documents they are affiliated to the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and facilitated the passage of several defendants into the Gaza Strip for training in the use of explosives and other weapons. Ahmady was allegedly among those smuggled into Gaza, and according to the initial confessions he prepared the bomb used in the assassination under the guidance of a Hamas intelligence officer identified as Abu Omar.
Barakat was killed on the morning of June 29, 2015 in a car bombing as his convoy left his residence in Heliopolis. Barakat and a number of others, including passersby, were killed in the incident.
No one has formally claimed responsibility for the operation, and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood have both denied involvement. One statement was issued by a website affiliated to the Popular Resistance Brigades in Giza, a group of militant organizations, however this turned out to be a false claim.