Jordan sentences nine militants to death
AMMAN, Mar 22: Jordan today sentenced to death nine Islamist militants for inciting riots in 2002 in the southern city of Maan in which seven people were killed.
Four of them were sentenced in absentia by a three-man military court which also handed another militant a 10-year prison sentence.
Dozens of others were acquitted.
Among those sentenced to death was Mohammad Chalabi, a firebrand Muslim preacher and alleged al Qaeda sympathiser better known as Abu Sayyaf, who is already serving a 15-year sentence he received in 2004 for a plot to attack Westerners.
''O tyrants we will take our revenge and victory is on our side,'' chanted the six convicted militants in a caged dock in the court room inside Jweida prison on the outskirts of Amman.
''Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), Allah is our Lord. You have no God ...you tyrants,'' they chanted.
Military judge Fawaz al-Baqour had found the nine militants guilty on two main charges of possessing weapons and making explosives for illegal use, which carry the death penalty.
Another charge against the nine of ''committing acts of terror that led to death'' was dropped for lack of evidence.
Defence lawyers say confessions in the case were extracted under duress with no evidence to back up prosecution charges.
''This is a political trial and those who should be put on trial are the officials who sent the army to terrify citizens ... They are responsible for the deaths of innocent people not the defendants,'' one lawyer, Hikmat Rawashdeh, told Reuters.
''This is an unjust and cruel sentence that is not supported by the evidence and we will appeal,'' Rawashdeh said, adding that the appeals would be lodged to a higher court within 30 days.
Maan, a desert city, 250 km south of the capital Amman, is an Islamist stronghold that has seen bouts of civil unrest in the past over fuel price rises and Iraq.
The violence that gripped Maan in October and November of 2002 came after counter-terrorism forces launched a hunt for Islamist militants said to be at the time linked to the killing of a U S diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman the same year.
Foley's killing was blamed on al Qaeda.
At least seven people, including two policemen died in the crackdown in Maan. But Abu Sayyaf, the alleged ringleader of the trouble, remained at large until his arrest in September 2003.
In recent weeks Jordan has speeded up the trial of dozens of prisoners held on charges of plotting attacks on Israelis, Americans and Westerners in the kingdom.
Jordanian security officials say a rise in militancy in Jordan is tied to growing anti-American sentiment since the U S-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.