By Ahmed Khalil El-Sayed

CAIRO - An Egyptian criminal court on Monday issued preliminary death sentences to eight individuals for allegedly planning to assassinate President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The sentences were referred to the country’s Grand Mufti, the government’s top religious figure, for ratification, the court said in a statement. It set March 6 as the date for the final verdict in the case that includes a total of 292 accused.

Authorities accused the defendants of forming 22 terrorist cells affiliated with Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate. Of the total accused, 158 are currently in custody, seven are out on bail and the rest are fugitives.

The defendants face a range of charges in connection with various alleged crimes, including two plots to kill El-Sisi -- one while he was in Saudi Arabia performing the lesser pilgrimage. Officials said the defendants also targeted members of the Saudi royal family. The alleged plots date back to 2014.

Other charges include planting roadside explosives in the north Sinai town of El-Arish, killing three judges in the restive peninsula and targeting the headquarters of judges in that area overseeing parliamentary elections.