(TheBlaze/AP) -- On Monday, an Egyptian court sentenced 14 members of an extremist group to death by hanging for attacks against police in the Sinai Peninsula, ruling that they were members of an organization that considers even other Islamists to be infidels.
Six of the men were present to be sentenced by the court in the Suez Canal governorate of Ismailia, while another eight are still fugitives and were convicted in absentia.
The death sentences highlight the conflict between the government of President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and extremist networks like el-Tawhid wi el-Jihad, blamed for the deadly attack last year in northern Sinai's el-Arish city.
Part of a larger fringe trend in northern Sinai known as Takfir wil-Hijra, the movement's members lead secretive, isolated lives where anything and anyone that does not adhere to their rigid interpretation of Islam is deemed heretical - including the government and its security forces. Dubbed "Takfiris" because of how often they cry "takfir," or that other Muslims are actually unbelievers, one of the movement's leaders was executed under Sadat in 1978.
In August the Associated Press reported that the number of Takfiris in Egypt has swelled, multiplying from a few hundred in Sinai before last year’s popular uprising to at least 4,500, living in the impoverished small towns of northern Sinai. Their rise underlines how lawlessness after security agencies fell apart with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year has fueled the spread of more hardline ideologies in Egypt.
"Morsi is an infidel and those who follow him are infidels," one defendant reportedly yelled.
According to Al-Jazeera, others shouted "God is Great" while holding the Koran in their metal cages as they listened to the judge.
The June 2011 attack against el-Arish's main police station and a nearby bank killed a civilian and a number of police and military officers. The group was also found guilty of storming el-Arish's police station and of smashing statues of former President Anwar Sadat who was assassinated in 1981 after signing Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
The court issued its final verdict Monday after Egypt's top religious cleric approved the executions, as is customary for death sentences under the nation's legal system.
In a brazen attack, unidentified militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near the border in August. More recently on Friday, heavily armed militants wearing explosive belts opened fire on Israeli soldiers near the border, killing one.
"This court decision is a milestone. It gives a strong message to the militant groups that the state, President Mohamed Morsi's government, will not tolerate attacks on the Egyptian armed forces and police," Nageh Ibrahim, an Islamist researcher and a former fighter, commented.