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A defendant accused of involvement in the 2015 assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor makes a heart shape with his hands during his trial in a courtroom, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh(reuters_tickers)
By Haitham Ahmed
CAIRO (Reuters) - A Cairo criminal court on Saturday recommended the death penalty for 30 people convicted of involvement in the 2015 assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor, the most senior state official killed by militants in recent years.
The court set a verdict session for July 22, after referring its recommendation to the country's top religious authority, the Grand Mufti, for a non-binding legally-required opinion. The July 22 verdict can be appealed against.
Public prosecutor Hisham Barakat was killed in a car bomb attack on his convoy in Cairo, an operation for which Egypt blamed the Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza-based Hamas militants, though both groups have denied it.
"The brutal conspiracy by hired hands to target the public prosecutor Hisham Barakat and assassinate him, where the corrupt and weak-willed forces of evil and tyranny conspired, could only be carried out by an unjust group that has shed innocent blood," said Judge Hassan Farid.
Farid initially read out 31 names but two of them referred to the same person and the judge then corrected himself.
Only half of the defendants are in custody, with 15 on the run.
The Interior Ministry released a video last year showing clips of several young men confessing and admitting going to Gaza for training from Hamas, though some of them later denied the accusations in court.
The defendants said they were forced to confess under torture and their lawyers asked that they be medically examined. Farid said he granted the request to a majority, but not all, and that doctors in a prison hospital had found no signs of torture.
Egypt faces an Islamist insurgency led by Islamic State in North Sinai, where hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed.
The group has also increasingly carried out attacks in Egypt targeting Christians in a spate of church bombings and shootings that have killed some 100 since December.
Barakat was the highest-ranking state official to die in a militant attack since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former military chief, ousted President Mohamed Mursi, a Brotherhood leader, in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; Additional reporting by Mostafa Hashem; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Andrew Bolton)