By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press
CAIRO – A court in southern Egypt on Sunday convicted and sentenced to death a Muslim man for his part in last year's Christmas drive-by shooting outside a church that left six Christians and a Muslim guard dead, judicial officials said.
The court will announce its verdict next month for the other two defendants accused in the Jan. 6, 2010 attack, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information with the media.
Sunday's verdict, which cannot be appealed, comes two weeks after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a church in the port city of Alexandria, killing 21 and wounding nearly a 100 in the deadliest violence against Christians in more than a decade. A local, al-Qaida-inspired group is thought to be behind the attack.
The January 2010 attack in the southern town of Nag Hamadi also took place outside a church as worshippers were leaving after the Coptic Christmas Mass, and is believed to have been in retaliation for accusations of rape against a local Christian man.
The harshness of Sunday's sentence was likely to partially appease Egypt's Christians, who have been complaining that criminal cases involving Muslims attacking members of their community often languish in the courts.
They also charge that police often turn a blind eye to incidents of discrimination or violence against them. Last week an off duty police officer walked onto a train in southern Egypt and shot six Christians, killing a 71-year-old man, further exacerbating tensions with the country's largest minority.
The government denies any discrimination against the Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's estimated 80 million people.