Egypt executes 9 over top prosecutor's assassination, officials say

Egypt has executed nine suspected Muslim Brotherhood members convicted of involvement in the 2015 assassination of the country's top prosecutor, security officials said.

Amnesty International had called for a halt to executions

Egyptian police officers stand guard at the site of a bombing that killed Egypt’s top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, in June 2015. (Eman Helal/Associated Press)

Egypt on Wednesday executed nine suspected Muslim Brotherhood members convicted of involvement in the 2015 assassination of the country's top prosecutor, security officials said.

The nine were found guilty of taking part in the bombing that killed prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat, the first assassination of a senior official in Egypt in a quarter century. Barakat was also the most senior official killed since the military overthrew Mohammed Morsi, an elected but divisive Islamist president, in 2013.

The officials said the families of the men were told to pick up their bodies from a Cairo morgue, where several people waited anxiously for several hours before recovering them. A police official at the morgue said authorities didn't inform relatives of the details of the executions before they took place because of "security reasons."

A total of 15 people have been executed in Egypt since the start of the year. Three were hanged earlier this month for their involvement in the 2014 killing of a judge's son in the Nile Delta town of Mansoura. Authorities executed another three for killing a police officer in Cairo in September 2013. Rights groups decried the executions, saying the men were sentenced to death following torture and beatings to extract confessions.

According to rights groups, authorities have executed at least 165 people since July 2013, including at least 32 between January and November 2018.

By carrying out the executions, Egypt demonstrated an "absolute disregard for the right to life," said Najia Bounaim, North Africa campaign director for Amnesty International.

"The international community must not stay silent over this surge in executions. Egypt's allies must take a clear stand by publicly condemning the authorities' use of the death penalty, the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment," she said.

Egyptian prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat, seen here in July 2013, was killed in a powerful bombing in Cairo in June 2015. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The London-based group on Tuesday had called on Egypt to halt the latest executions, saying some defendants said they were forcibly disappeared and confessed under torture.

The executions "suggest a troubling trend on the part of the government in which executions appear to be tools of revenge following terrorist attacks rather than a part of an orderly criminal justice system," said Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

Egypt's highest appeals court upheld the death sentences in November. It commuted six other death sentences to life in prison. Death sentences were also handed down in July 2017 to 13 defendants tried in absentia. They will be eligible for a new trial if they surrender or are captured. Turkey deported one of the 13 last month.

Extensive crackdown on Islamists

The Muslim Brotherhood was Egypt's best-organized opposition movement for decades and won a series of elections after a pro-democracy uprising in 2011 ended former president Hosni Mubarak's nearly three-decade rule.

But Morsi, a senior Brotherhood figure elected in 2012, proved divisive, and the military removed him from power amid mass protests against his rule a year later. 

Since then authorities have waged an extensive crackdown on Islamists, arresting and detaining thousands and levelling harsh sentences against them. The Brotherhood has been banned and declared a terrorist group.

Islamic militants have also stepped up attacks since Morsi's 2013 overthrow, mainly targeting security forces and the country's Christian minority. Another group, known as Hasm, which has targeted security forces, has been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Barakat's assassination recalled one of Egypt's darkest chapters, when Islamic militants and the state security apparatus engaged in retaliatory killings for nearly a decade starting in 1990. That year, the militants gunned down parliament speaker Rifaat el-Mahgoub in Cairo, the last assassination of a senior official. There were attempts against other ministers until the insurgency was crushed in the late 1990s.

With files from Reuters