A 22-year-old suicide bomber was behind the attack on the St. Peter and St. Paul Church that took place on Sunday and left 25 killed and 49 injured, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced on Monday during the official funeral for the victims.
He also added that the General Prosecution arrested four people, including a woman, for investigation, while two other suspects are being sought after in connection with the attack.
Regarding the accountability of defendants, Al-Sisi also said that the current judicial system will be slow in holding the terrorists accountable. However, his statement remains vague on the matter, and on how the state will deal with the defendants, especially amid calls for military trials against them.
Several members of parliament and public figures called for military trials for whoever was proven to be involved in the attack. The figures justified their calls by saying that Egypt’s litigation procedures are very slow, as there are several terrorism-related cases that had been ongoing for over three years without being concluded by final verdicts, while military trials would be adequate punishments for the involved terrorists.
Among these figures was prominent pro-state TV anchor Ahmed Moussa. During his coverage of the incident, Moussa called on parliamentary speaker Ali Abdul Aal to issue a law facilitating the trial of those involved in military courts, given that these trials reach their verdicts faster than normal trials.
This call was also made by a number of MPs who said that they will intensify their efforts to discuss the Code of Criminal Procedure, and amend it to include military trials, believing that terrorists should be subject to military trials.
The parliamentary Committee of Defence and National Security is supposed to meet early on Monday to discuss ways to counter the increase in terror attacks. The committee stressed the necessity of holding all the suspects accountable through military trials, as their referral to normal judiciary will hinder a prompt ruling.
Deputy of the parliament Soliman Wahdan said in a televised phone call that the parliament will discuss the referral of all terror attack cases to military courts, due to the slow pace of the judiciary system. He added that the amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure should require the courts to conclude all litigation procedures within one year at most.
Coptic rights lawyer Naguib Gabriel told Daily News Egypt that the attack is a national security issue, and that the state has the right to refer suspects to military trials, as our judiciary system is slow and we have fruitless laws.
MP Yehia El-Kadwany said that the Penal Code is not sufficient to be able to hold the suspects in terror cases accountable, and that military courts follow decisive procedures that could help decrease the number of terrorist attacks in the future.
In contrast to previous statements, Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher on the freedom of religion and belief at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Daily News Egypt that “the Penal Code is sufficient to hold those criminals accountable, as it includes articles that could hand terrorists life sentences and even execution verdicts”, adding that military trials in this case are unconstitutional.
Article 204 in the Constitution permits military trials for civilians only in cases related to insulting the armed forces or targeting their equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds, officers, or personnel, but not terrorism attacks targeting vital institutions or civilians. Therefore, some public figures and MPs called for its amendment to further include cases of terrorism.
Commenting on the judiciary’s slow litigation, Ibrahim said that this is not a justification to enforce military trials, suggesting that there could be a specific judicial department working only on such cases.
Moreover, Coptic rights activist Nader Shoukry said that the activation of military trials would further tarnish the image of Egypt’s democratic process, adding that these trials may reach unfair verdicts that could not easily be appealed later on, and suggesting to specialise a court for terrorism cases.
Military trials of civilians are often rejected by several rights groups and political figures, given that the nature of these trials includes severe verdicts that cannot be appealed and fast-paced procedures. A number of civilians are currently facing military trials in cases unrelated to the conditions mentioned in Article 204 of the Constitution.
Copts have been comparing the attack to the bombing of Alexandria’s Saints Church on New Year’s Eve 2011, which resulted in the death of 28 people and injured 300 others. Although the incident happened five years ago, no defendants have been referred to court in connection to it.
After four years of lawyers attempting to start any legal procedures of the case, it was only in September that the Administrative Court in Alexandria called on the Interior Ministry to submit its investigations regarding the case to hold the suspects accountable.
Another incident occurred in 2013 when unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire at the Virgin Mary Church located in Al-Warraq district during the celebration of a Coptic Orthodox wedding. Four people died and 17 were injured in the attack.
Other terrorist attacks took place throughout the past three years against Coptic churches and were highly condemned by multiple institutions and public figures. The judiciary has so far not reached verdicts or definitive conclusions in these cases.