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Mar 21, 8:55 AM EDT

Egypt hands life sentences to 9 on terror-related charges

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CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced in absentia nine alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to life imprisonment for forming a "terrorist cell" to plot attacks on security forces and other institutions.

Life sentences in Egypt are equal to 25 years, and the suspects, who remain at large, can be re-tried once they are apprehended.

The Cairo Criminal Court also sentenced another 13 defendants to 10 years each on similar charges, including planning to kill public figures and security officials, and joining an outlawed group, a reference to the Brotherhood. Two minors were sentenced each to two years. Those 15 suspects are in custody and their sentences can be appealed.

Egypt designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization after the 2013's removal from power of President Mohammed Morsi, a senior Brotherhood figure. Morsi has been jailed and sentenced to death.

Also Wednesday, Egypt's chief prosecutor referred 30 people to trial, suspected of belonging to an Islamic State affiliate. According to a statement, the suspects plotted assault on security personnel and state institutions, as well as Egypt's Christian minority and churches. The statement said they trained in IS camps in Syria and Libya.

No date has been set for the trial.

Egypt has for years struggled to contain an Islamic insurgency in the turbulent Sinai region. It has carried out military operations there that, it says, have killed hundreds of militants and soldiers.

The country is also facing a growing number of attacks in its Western Desert, along the porous border with Libya that authorities contend is used by both militants and smugglers.

In February, Egypt launched a new, massive security operation in Sinai, the Nile Delta and the Western Desert to target "terrorist and criminal elements and organizations."

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