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Jordan hangs two militants for killing US diplomat

Written by: Staff

AMMAN, Mar 11 (Reuters) Jordan executed today two Islamist militants found guilty of the murder of a US diplomat in Amman, a rare case of death sentences imposed on security detainees being carried out.

Officials told Reuters prison authorities in Swaqa hanged Libyan Salem bin Suweid, 46, and Jordanian Yasser Freihat, 28, at dawn, carrying out sentences handed down in 2004 for the murder of US diplomat Laurence Foley in October 2002.

''The death sentence by hanging against the two criminals, Salem Saad Salem bin Suweid and Jordanian national Yasser Fathi Ibrahim Freihat, was implemented at dawn after they were convicted of the terrorist act that led to the death of a diplomat working in Amman,'' a security official said.

Political detainees sentenced to death in Jordan, a staunch US ally, are rarely executed, and officials said the men were the first Muslim militants the country had hanged for years.

Jordanian intelligence accused Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, of masterminding Foley's murder. Suweid and Freihat denied the charges against them and said their confessions were extracted under duress.

Hundreds of Islamists chanted slogans praising Zarqawi after relatives and sympathisers carried Freihat's body from his modest home in impoverished Russaifa on the outskirts of the capital to a nearby cemetery.

''O tyrants, Abu Musab and bin Laden will come and dig your graves,'' the young bearded men chanted before burying Freihat's body, dressed in his red prison gown.

After the burial, several bearded Islamist fundamentalists delivered speeches urging Muslim holy war (Jihad) and revenge against ''infidels and enemies of God.'' ''We bid farewell to Yasser with his wish of dying as a martyr fulfilled ... our martyrdom in Jihad (Muslim holy war) is our highest wish,'' said Sheikh Jarah Abdullah, a local cleric.

ANTI-WESTERN FEELING Activists said authorities refused to hand over Suweid's body for burial alongside that of his accomplice Freihat.

Foley's assassination, at a time of strong anti-Western feeling before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, rocked the kingdom, normally a staunch US ally.

Earlier this month rioting broke out in three big Jordanian prisons after security forces went into Swaqa to transfer Suweid and Freihat for execution. The clashes, involving 150 inmates, were the most serious in Jordan in recent years.

A Jordanian security source said riot police and prison authorities had been put on high alert because inmates had threatened to riot if the two men were executed.

Islamists in contact with security detainees said inmates were threatening ''unspecified action'' to show their anger.

Security sources said the inmates used smuggled mobile phones to organise the recent jail riots, underscoring their high level of coordination. The three prisons are among eight jails holding more than 6,000 common and political prisoners.

Dozens of inmates are being held on suspicion of plotting attacks on Israelis, Americans and Westerners.

Security officials in Jordan say the rise in militancy is tied to growing anti-American sentiment since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Reuters KD VP0020

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