AN Egyptian court has sentenced 26 people to death for forming a terrorist group and planning attacks on the Suez Canal.

All defendants but one were tried in absentia at Cairo Criminal Court. Prosecutors charged the group with planning attacks on ships on the canal last year, security buildings, foreign tourists and police.

An al Qaeda-inspired group has claimed responsibility for a rocket-propelled grenade attack targeting the canal last year.

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In 2012, an Egyptian court sentenced 14 militants to death on charges related to attacks on police and civilians in the volatile Sinai Peninsula in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising.

Eight are in prison while the rest were tried in absentia. They allegedly belonged to the extremist Tawheed and Jihad group.

Meanwhie, Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al Sisi is to keep his post as defence minister in a new government for now.

The move quashes speculation he was about to announce a bid for the presidency. Mr Sisi is tipped to win the upcoming presidential election but has yet to announce his candidacy.