Three Muslims accused of gunning down six Egyptian Christians on the Coptic Christmas Eve will stand trial before an emergency security court, the state prosecutor said on Saturday.
The prosecutor, Abdel Magid Mahmud, said in a statement that the three men were charged with premeditated murder aimed at harming national interests.
The suspects were arrested a day after they allegedly shot dead the six Copts and a Muslim policeman along a stretch of road with churches and a shopping mall in the southern village of Naga Hammadi on Jan. 6.
The drive-by shooting took place after worshippers emerged from midnight mass before Christmas, marked by Copts and other Orthodox communities across the world on Jan. 7.
The killings, which were condemned by Pope Benedict XVI, sparked outrage among Egypt's Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the country's 80 million people, and led to clashes with police.
A number of Muslim and Coptic homes and stores were attacked and burnt in the ensuing violence.
Sectarian clashes occur regularly in Egypt, particularly in the rural south, but the attack was the bloodiest since 20 Copts died in clashes in 2000.
Egyptian human rights activist Hafez Abu Saada said the trial would be the first conducted by a state security court over a sectarian attack. The courts are usually used for terrorism cases and allow no right of appeal.
"It's a message of reassurance to the Copts and to affirm the government's concern towards this case," he said.
Copts complain of discrimination in the Muslim majority country. They are permitted to build churches only after they get presidential permission and must apply to their governor to renovate churches.