|Egypt's Copts say cases concerning sectarian violence take too long before justice is served [AFP]
A court in southern Egypt has given the death sentence to Hamam el-Kammouny, the primary defendant behind a shooting spree that killed six Coptic Christians last year.
The verdict delivered on Sunday did not include a sentence for two other armed men involved in the attack that also killed one Muslim security guard.
The charged defendants raked worshippers emerging from a Coptic Christmas Eve mass with bullets in the village of Nag Hammadi near the province of Qena on January 6, 2010.
The judge said Kammouny's sentence would be sent to the grand mufti for confirmation, a reference to Egypt's top religious authority who is called on to confirm death sentences.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said a verdict for the remaining two defendants will be announced on February 20, along with the mufti's confirmation to clear Kammouny's death sentence.
The three defendants were charged last year with the aim of undermining national interest, harming public security, endangering the lives of citizens as well as the use of force and violence.
"This is the first time a sectarian attack is being referred to a state security court. These are special tribunals set up under the country's emergency law," said Rageh.
She said the decisions of these courts cannot be appealed.
"All along, Egypt's Coptic community have been complaining that sectarian-related cases take too long before justice is served. In some instances, perpetrators are often acquitted and in the case of Nag Hammadi, it took over a year for a verdict to be delivered," Rageh said.
"But the most recent verdict is expected to placate some of that anger."
In a recent attack that has threatened to exacerbate tensions between Muslims and Egypt's minority Christians, a suicide bomber killed 23 people outside a church in the northern city of Alexandria after a New Year's Eve mass at the start of 2011.