Sep 20, 1:40 PM EDT

Egypt court sentences 5 to death on terror charges

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CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian court on Saturday convicted and sentenced five people to death on charges of forming a terrorist group and attacking a church, killing one policeman, the country's state news agency reported.

News agency MENA said the court sentenced two others to life in prison in the same case.

Prosecutors had charged the defendants with forming a terrorist group that targets Christians and security forces starting last October.

Three of the defendants were tried in absentia, meaning that there will be an automatic retrial if they are arrested or hand themselves in.

Egypt has witnessed a surge in militant attacks since the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The government has blamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, officially designated as a terrorist group, and their Islamist allies for the increasing violence.

A security crackdown on Morsi supporters has killed hundreds and left tens of thousands in detention or facing trials, including the group's top leadership.

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