CAIRO - An Egyptian court branded the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas a ‘terrorist’ organisation, a judicial source said, after it was alleged to have links with jihadists behind deadly Sinai attacks.

From Gaza City, Hamas reacted by condemning what it called ‘a great disgrace which soils the reputation of Egypt’. Since Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the authorities have accused Hamas of aiding jihadists who have waged a string of deadly attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt blames Hamas, which is close to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, of supporting the blacklisted Egyptian movement. An Egyptian court on January 31 banned the armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, declaring it a ‘terrorist’ group. In March last year, Egypt banned Hamas from carrying out any activities on its soil and froze the assets of the Islamist movement which controls the neighbouring Gaza Strip.

The court of first instance issued its verdict on Saturday after two complaints were filed against Hamas implicating it in deadly attacks against the police force and army in the Sinai, said the judicial source. Jihadists on the peninsula have killed scores of policemen and soldiers since Morsi’s overthrow, vowing revenge for a crackdown on his supporters that has left more than 1,400 people dead.

Saturday’s ruling comes just days after Egypt adopted a new anti-terrorism law allowing the authorities to close the premises of any declared ‘terrorist’ organisation, and to freeze its assets as well as those of its members. The court ruling was ‘a desperate attempt to export Egypt’s crises’, charged Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza City.

It amounted to ‘a dangerous escalation against the Palestinian people and the forces of Palestinian resistance’ against Israel. But it would have ‘no impact on Hamas which treats with respect all the sons and leaders of the Arab world, except for some influential persons in Egypt’, said Abu Zuhri. Moreover, An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced to life imprisonment the head of the banned Muslim Brotherhood over the killing of protesters who stormed the group’s Cairo headquarters in 2013.

Three co-defendants of Mohamed Badie - the Islamist movement’s spiritual leader who already faces three other life terms from other cases - were sentenced to death in the same trial. Fourteen others, including Badie’s deputies Khairat al-Shater and Saad al-Katatni, were handed life terms.

All were convicted on charges of ‘murder’ and ‘incitement to murder’ as well as possessing arms, but can appeal the verdicts. Badie and the other defendants present in court for the verdict denounced the sentence and shouted: ‘Down with military rule’. On June 30, 2013, protesters stormed and torched the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood as millions took to the streets of Egypt demanding the resignation of president Mohamed Morsi.

Morsi, who belongs to the Brotherhood, was ousted just days later by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after one year in office. Prosecutors said 12 protesters were killed when they clashed with Morsi supporters during the storming of the Brotherhood offices, while more than 90 were wounded. Badie has already been sentenced by three separate courts to three life terms, and he was also handed two death sentences that were later overturned on appeal.

Since Morsi’s overthrow in July 2013, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown against his supporters leaving hundreds dead and thousands jailed after often speedy mass trials. Morsi himself is facing several trials on charges that are punishable by death, while his Islamist movement has been designated a ‘terrorist group’. Moreover, In the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday, unknown gunmen shot with what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns at a protest supporting the army and Haftar.

Nobody was hurt but three nearby buildings were hit, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. The protesters had demanded classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a ‘terrorist’ organisation, like in Egypt. The Brotherhood has a presence in the rival parliament in Tripoli and western Libya. Thinni’s government accuses the Brotherhood of having ties to militant groups such as Ansar al-Sharia, blamed by Washington for an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in which the U.S. ambassador died. The Brotherhood in Libya says it is a peaceful organisation. No more details were immediately available.