Egypt’s North Cairo Criminal Court has sentenced to death 19-year-old Ahmad Saeed Ibrahim al-Sonbati for killing a priest and injuring another in a knife attack.

The verdict has now been forwarded to the Grand Mufti, who must give his approval. He is expected to give his final verdict on 15 January 2018.

Sonbati, a technician, was found guilty of the premeditated murder on 12 October of 45-year-old Coptic priest Samaan Shehata. The priest, from Beni Suef governorate, was on a visit to the capital, Cairo, when Sonbati attacked him with a cleaver.

The young man “had decided to kill any Coptic priest, purchased a dagger, and lay in wait for one to pass by, in a street leading to the local church”, according to the Coptic news site Watani. He reportedly blocked Shehata’s vehicle when it passed by and forced him to get out.

The priest who was with Shehata, Benjamin Moftah, survived the attack, according to a statement by the Egyptian Coptic Church.

After the attack, Coptic Bishop Angaelos of the United Kingdom was one of those to express sadness and anger. “Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street?” he asked. “Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”

‘Wipe them out’

Egypt’s Copts have suffered a wave of deadly violence this year. In February, the Islamic State group vowed to “wipe them out” and last week an IS-affiliated media outlet issued a new threat, saying Copts, who make up around 10 per cent of the population, must be attacked as “infidel fighters” and their churches blown up.

Hundreds of Copts fled Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in February after eight Copts were murdered and Islamists posted videos and leaflets telling Copts to leave the area or be killed.

In April, twin bombings of Coptic churches killed 49 during packed Palm Sunday worship services, then in May 28 Copts were slaughtered on a bus in Minya.

In July, after three more Copts were murdered in eight days, a priest in Cairo said “Copts are facing the most aggressive campaign against them in the history of modern Egypt. The government must be held accountable for its failure to protect them. It also needs to fight relentlessly against sectarianism and discrimination, which produce an inexhaustible supply of these awful crimes”.