World Bulletin / News Desk
An Egyptian court on Sunday referred four leading Muslim Brotherhood members to the grand mufti, Egypt's top religious authority, to consider possible death sentences over charges of killing protestors near the group's headquarters in eastern Cairo last year.
The court has set the date of February 28 to issue its final verdict, a judicial source told The Anadolu Agency.
"Cairo's Criminal Court referred four leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood – not including the group's top leader Mohamed Badie or any of its most senior members – over charges of killing demonstrators near the group's headquarters on June 30, 2013," the source, who requested anonymity, told The Anadolu Agency.
The opinion of the mufti is not binding to the court, but Egyptian law makes it necessary for judges to seek a religious point of view on any death sentence.
The source added that the court on February 28 will issue verdicts for the entire 17 defendants of the case, including Mohamed Badie.
Two of the four defendants who were slapped with Sunday's verdict are tried in absentia, the source added.
The 17 defendants in the case include Badie's two deputies, Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, along with senior leaders of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Essam al-Erian and Mohamed al-Beltagi.
Also facing the same charges are former Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akef, former parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, former youth minister Osama Yassin and former presidential aide Ayman Hodhod.
The defendants, for their part, dismiss the charges against them as politically motivated.
Egyptian authorities have unleashed a massive crackdown on the Brotherhood since the bloody dispersal last year of two sit-ins staged by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi during which hundreds of demonstrators were killed.
Egyptian authorities have since rounded up thousands of the Brotherhood's senior and mid-ranking members, hundreds of whom remain in detention.