Nahr done 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A Jordanian military court on Wednesday convicted 16 terrorists - including the fugitive Fatah Islam leader involved in recent fighting in Lebanon - of plotting to join al-Qaida fighters in Iraq.
Shaker al-Absi, whose whereabouts remain unclear, and 15 others - 11 of whom are in custody - were handed prison terms ranging from 20 months to five years.
The remaining five are at large and were tried and sentenced in absentia, as was al-Absi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin.
Another suspect, Dia'a al-Ajawi, who was also in custody, was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Al-Absi was presumed dead after fighting in the Lebanese Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared ended earlier this month, but Lebanese authorities later said a DNA test on a body suspected to be his proved negative.
The guilty verdict can be appealed.
The suspects in Jordanian custody, all sporting long beards and in dark blue prison uniforms, stood silently in the dock throughout the 15-minute hearing.
As the verdict was read, they jointly shouted: "Thank God."
The 17 were charged with seven counts, including illegal possession of weapons, harming relations with Iraq and attempting to illegally cross the borders to neighboring Syria with the intent to reach Iraq and join al-Qaida's insurgency there against Iraqi and US-led coalition forces.
When the trial started in April, the 12 men in custody pleaded innocent and told the court that Jordanian prosecutors extracted guilty confessions from them under duress.
Al-Absi and four other suspects at large got the five year sentences, while seven others received three-year terms, including Awni al-Mansi who is accused of being an al-Qaida operative linked to the Jordanian-born former al-Qaida in Iraq chief, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in an air strike last year.
Al-Mansi, wounded in a shootout with police in northern Jordan eight months ago, is also being tried separately on terror-related charges here.
The remaining four received 20 month terms after the court said they played a less important role in the plot. Jordanian military prosecutors said that al-Absi was also linked to al-Zarqawi.
The Fatah Islam leader had not been seen or heard from since early on in the Nahr el-Bared fighting which claimed the lives of 164 Lebanese soldiers and 222 gunmen in over four months of battles.
The same military court in Jordan previously sentenced in absentia both al-Absi and al-Zarqawi to death, for their involvement in the 2002 slaying here of US aid worker Laurence Foley. Both were also implicated in other terror plots in Jordan.