Eight people have been jailed for involvement in the April 2005 Cairo attacks, report Mohamed El-Sayed
and Serene Assir
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Those released congratulate each other while defendants receiving prison sentences stand in despair
Egypt's Supreme State Security Court has imprisoned eight people, including four for life, finding them guilty of involvement in attacks that killed three foreign tourists in Cairo in April 2005.
The court sentenced four of the accused to one to 10 years in prison, freed a further four, including two women, and delayed delivering a sentence on another accused, currently in hospital, till 20 November.
The first of the 2005 attacks took place on 7 April near the busy Khan Al-Khalili bazaar, killing the bomber and two French and one American tourist. A second attack took place on 30 April, when a man carrying a primitive home-made bomb died as he was chased by police in central Cairo, killing himself and wounding seven others. Later the same day, two veiled women shot at a tourist bus travelling through the Sayeda Aisha district, before killing themselves.
Before the trial began on 20 August, the courtroom was packed with relatives of the accused, all of whom pleaded not guilty. Journalists covering the trial were assaulted either by plainclothes policemen or by relatives of the accused, who tried to prevent them from taking photographs. Following the handing down of the sentences, relatives burst into tears, and some were expelled from the courtroom.
"I swear my son has no relation to any extremist group. He has been wrongly accused," cried the father of one of the sentenced. "How am I going to feed his children?"
According to the prosecution, those convicted had confessed to involvement in an illegal Islamist organisation during interrogation.
The defendants' lawyer, Mamdouh Ismail, criticised the court's rulings as unjust. "Those who actually carried out the terrorist acts all died, so the accused should not have been given such harsh sentences. The rulings were too harsh for this random group of people, who didn't form a part of any terrorist organisation," he told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Viewed in the context of the string of attacks that Egypt has seen starting with that on Taba in October 2004, the Cairo attacks have been by far the least significant.
"Not only was the number of victims much smaller, but the very nature of the attacks was on a completely different scale of sophistication and significance, when compared to the Sinai attacks," said Diaa Rashwan, analyst at Al-Ahram's Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
Rashwan blamed the media for seeking to place these incidents within the wider framework of terrorism.
"Had these attacks taken place before 11 September 2001, the reaction would have been completely different and far more suited to their small-scale, one-off nature," he said.
Considering the strength of anti-imperialist sentiment in Egypt, some observers have been surprised that so few attacks of this kind have taken place, particularly in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
"Imagine, for instance, if the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, with its 20,000-strong following, were still militarily active," Rashwan said.
"Then we may well have seen 10,000 suicide attacks to bring down the Egyptian government, which has condoned the US occupation of Iraq."
The Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya renounced violence in 1997.
Questions on who was behind the Sinai attacks began to be answered earlier this summer when Hamas delivered documents to the Egyptian government showing former Palestinian security minister Mohamed Dahlan's involvement.
Following the attacks, hundreds of Bedouin residents of Sinai were arrested in a massive state security operation. To this day, the Bedouin deny their involvement.
"We make money from tourism," North Sinai resident Moussa El-Krayem told the Weekly. "The accusations against us never made any sense."
Following a string of protests earlier this year, the Egyptian authorities agreed to improve police treatment of Sinai residents and to free those who remained in detention and against whom charges had not been brought.
However, this process remains ongoing.