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A policeman secures the site of a car bomb attack on the convoy of Egyptian public prosecutor Hisham Barakat near his house at Heliopolis district in Cairo, Egypt June 29, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

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CAIRO (Reuters) - A Cairo criminal court on Saturday sentenced to death 28 people over the 2015 killing of Egypt's top prosecutor after the death penalty was approved by the country's top religious authority, and it also jailed 15 others for 25 years each.

Public prosecutor Hisham Barakat was killed in a car bomb attack on his convoy in the capital, an operation for which Egypt blamed the Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza-based Hamas militants. Both groups have denied having a role.

The court had in June recommended passing the death penalty to Egypt's top religious leader, the Grand Mufti, who can approve or reject the recommendation. The mufti's guidance is required when a court seeks the death penalty but his decision is not binding..

The sentences, confirmed by the court in Saturday's hearing, can be appealed.

"The verdicts were shocking today," said one of the defence lawyers, Ahmed Saad. "Others who had nothing to do with the assassination of martyr Hisham Barakat received life sentences. They had nothing to do with the incident."

Egypt's Interior Ministry released a video last year showing several young men confessing and admitting going to Gaza for training from Hamas, but some later denied the charges in court.

The defendants said they were forced to confess under torture and their lawyers asked that they be medically examined.

Egypt faces an Islamist insurgency led by Islamic State in North Sinai, where hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed. But the group has increasingly targeted Egypt's Christians with church bombings and shooting.

(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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Reuters