Egypt refers 48 Islamic State suspects to military court over church bombings

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt referred 48 people to the country's military judiciary on Sunday for suspected involvement in three deadly church bombings and accused them of joining the militant group Islamic State. Egypt's Christian minority has come under attack in recent months. Two deadly church bombings in Alexandria and Tanta killed more than 45 people in April, months after a bombing near Cairo's Coptic Cathedral killed at least 25. Islamic State claimed responsibility for all three attacks. Public prosecutor Nabil Sadek said in a statement on Sunday that some of the suspects held leadership positions in Islamic State and formed cells in Cairo and the southern province of Qena to carry out the church attacks. Egypt is facing a more than three-year-old insurgency led by Islamic State that intensified after general-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the military in ousting Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. Attacks were largely against security forces in the sparsely populated Sinai Peninsula in the past, but the militant group has spread its violence to the mainland and increasingly targeted Christian civilians in recent months. The referral to the military judiciary paves the way for the suspects to face military trial. Sadek also accused the suspects of carrying out an attack on a checkpoint in Egypt's Western Desert that killed at least eight policemen and receiving military training from Islamic State in Syria and Libya. (Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Tom Finn and Tom Heneghan)