Egypt's former interior minister innocent of charges he ordered killings, lawyer says

The lawyer defending Egypt's former interior minister from charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during last year's uprising on Monday blamed "thugs and foreign elements" for shooting people.

Essam al-Battawi told a Cairo court that Habib al-Adly, who ran the police force under deposed President Hosni Mubarak, was innocent of all charges. Al-Adly entered a formal plea of not guilty last April.

Al-Adly, Mubarak and four top security officers are being tried for complicity in the deaths of hundreds of protesters at the hands of security forces during the 18-day uprising, which started one year ago this week. Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11. The six could face the death penalty if convicted.

Echoing arguments presented by others defending Mubarak, al-Battawi said "thugs and foreign elements" sneaked into crowds and killed protesters to destabilize Egypt.

Egyptians are closely watching the trials of a number of former officials who were once the most powerful men in the country. Al-Adly was the target of intense popular anger during the uprising for his role as head of Egypt's corrupt and oppressive police force.

Activists have accused the court of being lax with police officers accused of killing protesters, allowing many to stay on the job while facing murder charges. Only one policeman has been convicted in more than a dozen court cases over the death of at least 846 people killed in the government crackdown on protesters. He was tried in absentia, and upon his return to Egypt recently, he was granted a retrial.

Monday was the first of five days in which lawyers will lay out their defense of al-Adly. In the three-hour session, al-Battawi characterized his client as a patriot who worked hard to keep Egypt safe. Mubarak's lawyer made similar arguments during his five-day defense arguments.

Al-Battawi said police had no orders to fire bullets at protesters during the uprising's first days, using only bird shot and tear gas. He said the army took over control of security in the country on Jan. 28 and fired only on people trying to break into security offices and government buildings.

Al-Battawi informed the court he wished to summon a number of high-ranking military and security officers, as well as doctors who examined killed and injured protesters. Many families had deliberately registered their dead as "martyrs," he said, in the hopes of receiving compensation.

The court is unlikely to grant his requests, but al-Battawi could use a refusal to appeal the case should al-Adly be found guilty.