CAIRO — An Egyptian criminal court on Wednesday sentenced 26 people to death for founding and leading a “terror group” that aimed to target ships in the Suez canal, judicial sources said.

The court referred the verdict to the mufti, a top Islamic official who under Egyptian law has to validate the sentence, and set March 19 for the final verdict.

In September 2013, authorities at the canal said a terrorist had tried to damage a Panama-flagged ship, but “failed completely.”

“One of the terrorist elements has carried out a failed attempt to affect the movement of ships in the Suez Canal by targeting one of the passing ships, Cosco Asia,” Mohab Memish said in a statement at the time.

It was not clear if there was a link between that attempt and Wednesday’s sentence.

Since the 2011 ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, militants have regularly attacked military and police targets in the Sinai peninsula, bordered by the canal.

They have also struck gas pipelines, repeatedly forcing a halt in gas supplies to Israel and Jordan.

An al-Qaeda-inspired group called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks, saying they were in revenge for a deadly crackdown by the security forces on Morsi’s supporters.

The army has poured troops into the mountainous and underdeveloped region to combat the growing militancy. More than 1,400 people have been killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International, and thousands jailed.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.