Egypt Church Shooter Gets Death Sentence

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A Muslim man was sentenced to death in Egypt Sunday for killing six Christians and a Muslim guard last year.

The trial was held in the southern Egyptian city of Qena, and lasted 11 months. Sunday's hearing was held amid tight security, with hundreds of riot police stationed around the the courthouse.

The defendant Mohammed Ahmed Hassanein, also known by his alias Hammam al-Kamouni, broke down on hearing the sentence read out by the presiding judge.

"I am a victim, I did not do it," Hassanein screamed.

He was convicted of first degree murder and terror-related charges.

Hassanein was accused of opening fire from an assault rifle, killing the seven victims outside the church in the southern town of Nag Hamadi. The attack was believed to have been in retaliation for accusations that a local Christian man raped a Muslim girl.

Two other defendants are accused of being accomplices and, according to court records, egged him on during the shooting. They face up to 25 years in prison. Their verdicts will be announced Feb. 20.

The verdict came as Egyptian authorities try to calm religious tensions after a Jan. 1 suicide bombing that killed 21 worshippers outside a church in Alexandria.

The two attacks took place almost exactly a year apart and both struck worshippers leaving Mass in the days leading up to Orthodox Christmas, which Egypt's Coptic Christian minority celebrated on Jan. 7.

Many Christians welcomed the news of Hassanein's conviction.

"Finally a criminal is punished instead of blaming insane and crazy people," said 46-year-old Cairo school teacher Magda Ibrahim, alluding to a government practice of often blaming attacks on Christians on people with mental problems.

"It's like pain relief," said Mata Gad, a 47-year-old contractor who has lived for more than 30 years next to the Saints Church targeted in the Alexandria bombing. "It is hard for us Christians to trust the government. We place our trust in God only."

Authorities have beefed up security outside churches and have also shown uncustomary lenience in dealing with Christian protesters.

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