CAIRO (AFP) - An Egyptian criminal court on Wednesday sentenced 26 militants to death for founding a "terror group" that aimed to target ships in the Suez canal, judicial sources said.
Prosecutors also accused the defendants of making rockets and explosives while monitoring various security headquarters to plan attacks on them, the sources said.
The defendants were condemned for "founding and leading a terror group that aimed to attack people's freedom, damage national unity and (attack) the Suez canal waterway", according to one source.
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.
The defendants have the right to appeal.
The sources gave no further details about the group, nor about the alleged plot to target ships in the Suez canal, one of the world's busiest petroleum shipping channels.
An Al-Qaeda-inspired group, Furqan Brigades, attacked vessels passing through the canal last year and have vowed to conduct more attacks in the future.
However, it was not clear if those sentenced on Wednesday are linked to that group.
At nearly 200 km long, the Suez canal is owned by Egypt but governed by an international treaty that guarantees free navigation.
It provides a vital link between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Since the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July, militants have stepped up their attacks on security forces, killing scores of policemen and soldiers.
To combat the growing militancy, the army has poured troops into the mountainous and underdeveloped northern Sinai Peninsula, where most of the attacks have been taking place.
Jihadist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem) has claimed most of the deadliest attacks in Egypt since Morsi's ouster, saying they were to avenge the crackdown by security forces.
More than 1,400 people have been killed in the crackdown, according to rights group Amnesty International, and thousands have been jailed.