CAIRO, June 18 (Reuters) - An Egyptian court signaled on Wednesday it wanted death sentences for 12 defendants charged with killing a police officer and belonging to a terrorist group, when it referred the case to the country's highest religious authority.
The state news agency said only seven of the defendants were present in court when the judge read his ruling against those accused of killing Major General Nabil Farag last September when security forces arrested Islamist militants supportive of ousted President Mohamed Mursi.
Five of the accused are on the run. Eleven other defendants facing lesser charges are set to be sentenced at a session in August.
Death sentence recommendations are typically passed on to the Mufti, whose opinion can be ignored by the court. The rulings can be appealed.
"Referring the accused to the Mufti means the judge wants to deliver a death sentence, but the law requires him to take the opinion of the Mufti first," said Yasser Abdel Naguib, a lawyer for several of the accused.
More than a thousand suspected supporters of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood have been given death sentences this year which were referred to the Mufti, in cases that provoked outrage among rights groups and Western governments.
Thirty-seven of the sentences have been upheld, and more than six hundred others are awaiting a final decision.
New President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted Mursi last July following mass protests against his rule, has said the Brotherhood would cease to exist in his presidency. (Reporting By Omar Fahmy and Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Toby Chopra)