CAIRO (AP) — A lawyer for Egypt’s ousted president on Saturday told a Cairo court that it lacked jurisdiction to try Mohammed Morsi, saying the Islamist leader remained Egypt’s legitimate president because there has been no official decree removing him from office.
The hearing, the third since the trial opened in November, was held amid continuing militant attacks and a relentless crackdown on Morsi’s supporters, expanding those targeted to include Islamists who use social media against the military-backed government.
The claims by Morsi’s lawyer, the Islamist Mohammed Salim el-Awah, came as the trial of the ousted leader and 14 others on charges of inciting the killing of protesters in 2012 resumed amid tight security in a makeshift courtroom in the national police academy in an eastern Cairo suburb.
Morsi has insisted that he remains president, part of the Brotherhood’s broader strategy of defying the authority of Egypt’s new government at every turn. He was held in a soundproof glass cage in Saturday’s hearing and could only address the court directly if the judge allowed it.
The trial is one of four that Morsi and top Brotherhood leaders face. The charges levelled against them mostly carry the death penalty. Saturday’s hearing was adjourned until Tuesday to allow time for the examination by a panel of experts video footage presented by the prosecution as evidence. The defense challenged the authenticity of the videos in Saturday’s hearing.
Morsi was ousted by a military coup on July 3 that followed millions-strong demonstrations calling on him to leave office. He is now held at a high security prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. His incarceration there followed four months of detention in an undisclosed location.
The case stems from violence outside the presidential palace in December 2012. Morsi’s supporters attacked opposition protesters, sparking clashes that killed at least 10 people. The defendants are charged with inciting the killing of three of those protesters.
Morsi’s three other trials are on charges of escaping from prison during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s rule; conspiracy with foreign militant groups to harm Egypt’s national security; and insulting the judiciary.
El-Awah contended that if Morsi was not formally dismissed, then he remains the legitimate president to this day and thus the law governing the trial of serving presidents must be observed, according to an account of the proceedings issued by the Egyptian Middle East News Agency.
Morsi and most of the defendants turned their backs to the court when Judge Ahmed Sabry Youssef played several video recordings of the clashes outside the palace in 2012. Morsi, however, remained mostly calm as he stood in his glass cage in contrast to his outbursts during two previous court appearances In November and last week.
Anti-Morsi protesters outside the police academy briefly surrounded el-Awah’s car as it approached the police academy’s gate. Some pounded on the car while others yelled insults.
El-Awah, a former presidential candidate, was unhurt and later stepped out of the car to complain to a senior police officer.
Egypt has been rocked by a wave of deadly violence since Morsi’s ouster, with the army and security forces facing a full-blown insurgency in the Sinai peninsula. The violence has spread to mainland Egypt, with attacks on high profile targets in Cairo growing more frequent.
There also have been near-daily protests by Morsi’s supporters. Marchers sometimes carry firearms and use them against security forces, with witness reports suggesting that this is becoming more frequent.
The military-backed government has meanwhile been cracking down on the Brotherhood and its allies, killing hundreds and jailing thousands since July. On Saturday, authorities announced the arrest of seven Morsi supporters for their alleged use of social media to incite the killing of policemen suspected of taking part in the crackdown against Brotherhood members.
The latest arrests take to 18 the number of Morsi supporters accused of using their Facebook pages to incite violence against the police, signaling an expansion of the crackdown against the Brotherhood.
In the latest violence, the Health Ministry on Saturday said one person was killed in Cairo and 35 were wounded in clashes on the previous day between police and Morsi’s supporters in Cairo and several other cities.
Also Saturday, a new Egyptian militant jihadi group issued its first statement, claiming responsibility for planting explosives and attacking security men and police stations.
In a statement posted on a militant website late Friday, Ajnad Misr, or Egypt’s Soldiers, said it will fight the “regime’s criminal organs,” which it said were being used to humiliate the people and prevent them from performing religious duties.
It said it planted and detonated two explosive devices on a main highway on Cairo’s outskirts Friday. Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif said the explosion hit a vehicle carrying riot police and wounded an officer.
Earlier this week, the major Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis or Champions of Jerusalem, said that that Ajnad Misr was responsible for one of four bomb attacks targeting police in Cairo on Jan. 24. Police said the blast at Talbiya police station caused no casualties.
In the latest fighting in northern Sinai, two key members of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis — brothers Salamah and Suleiman Abu Malhous — were killed on Saturday in clashes with army troops near the restive town of Sheikh Zuweyid, according to security officials.
They said the two are believed to have been involved in an attack that surprised and killed 16 Egyptian soldiers as they were sitting down for a meal in Sinai in August 2012.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media on ongoing military operations.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.