Sinai tribesmen sentenced in absentia to life in prison for attacking police convoy

A court in the northern Sinai city of Al-Arish has sentenced seven Bedouin tribesmen in absentia to life imprisonment on various charges, including the use of force against police officers and possession of unlicensed weapons and ammunition.

The court panel, headed by Justice Bahaa al-Marri and prosecutor Haytham Ammar, had issued a previous ruling on the seven defendants, including Salem Abu Lafi, who escaped from prison in January.

Abu Lafi was jailed in 2008 after a number of tribesman briefly held dozens of police officers hostage in response to the killing of three Bedouins during an earlier demonstration. In February 2010, as he and other tribesmen were being transferred to another prison, Abu Lafi managed to escape from his captors. In a subsequent gun battle, one policeman was killed.

The six other defendants, all members of Abu Lafi's Tarabin tribe, are Salam Musaid Suleiman, Tawfiq Jadallah Aldeisy, Salama Soleiman Fayyad, Ibrahim Eid Salim, and Germy Sweilem, all of whom have escaped from prison.

The men were charged with attacking a police convoy en route to the Wadi al-Omar area of the Sinai Peninsula. The convoy had been delivering ballot boxes and carrying officers mandated with protecting an official electoral commission. Ballots, along with a police car license, were seized by the attackers.

According to Abu Lafi, the Interior Ministry is currently creating more problems than it is solving, and faces considerable alienation among members of the Tarabin tribe. Abu Lafi warned that the ministry's response was "not be in the region's best interest," adding that the tribe would issue a statement demanding the death of any Bedouin found dealing with police officers.

He went on to stress that the Tarabin would no longer have anything to do with the ministry.

On Wednesday, another verdict–based on charges filed by government officials–is expected to be handed down on the defendants, which Abu Lafi described as "payback" on the part of police.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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