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Egyptian bus assailants sentenced to death

men in court October 30, 1997
Web posted at: 9:17 a.m. EST (1417 GMT)

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- An Egyptian military court Thursday sentenced two brothers to death by hanging for their attack on a bus in which nine German tourists and their Egyptian driver were killed.

Saber Abu el-Ulla and his brother Mahmoud Abu el-Ulla had pleaded guilty to charges of premeditated murder, attacking tourists and damaging the economy through violence and terrorism. They appeared in court chatting and smiling as the verdict was read.

After the verdict was read, Saber Abu el-Ulla cried out, "God is great!" and dropped to the floor in prayer.

The September 18 shooting and fire-bombing of the tourist bus took place outside the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of the world's greatest Pharaonic treasures. The attack wounded 26 people and shook Egypt's crucial tourist industry.

bombed bus

Seven other men had been charged with providing the brothers with weapons used in the attack. Of these, one was sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labor and five to prison terms ranging from 15 months to seven years. One man was acquitted.

At the start of the trial that began on October 14, Saber Abu el-Ulla said his only regret was that the victims of the September attack Cairo had not been Jews.

Saber Abu el-Ulla has said he espouses Islamist ideology but was not a member of any of the Muslim militant groups that have been waging a bloody campaign to topple the government.

Some of the groups have attacked tourists in an effort to cripple the economy. In a statement earlier this month, the largest group, the Islamic Group, hailed the "mujahedeen" brothers and warned tourists not to come to Egypt.

Military justice

Military court verdicts cannot be appealed, but sentences can only be carried out after they have been approved by the president as supreme commander of the armed forces.

After the attack, Saber Abu el-Ulla said that he wanted to avenge a cartoon drawn by an Israeli woman that depicted Islam's Prophet Mohammed as a pig.

But in wide-ranging comments during the trial, he told reporters from inside a steel cage set up in the courtroom that he staged the attack to defend Islam and to punish Europe.

Before the museum attack, Saber Abu el-Ulla, a failed pop musician, escaped or was freed from a mental asylum where he was committed for killing two Americans and a Frenchman at a Cairo hotel in 1993.

He has told reporters that his father paid the head of Egypt's mental institutions $14,700 to get him certified mentally ill so that he could escape the death penalty in the 1993 attack. The official, Sayed el-Qut, has been arrested.

President Hosni Mubarak began to refer Islamist militants to the speedy justice of military courts in 1992, ignoring criticism from human rights groups. So far, 90 death sentences have been issued and 57 carried out, all but two by hanging.

The September attack on a bus in Cairo's crowded Tahrir Square was the first on tourists since Islamic Group activists shot dead 18 Greek tourists they mistook for Israelis in April 1996.

Nearly 1,100 people, including 34 non-Egyptians, have been killed in a five-year armed campaign by Muslim militants to set up a purist Islamic state in Egypt.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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