- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s military court yesterday acquitted 13 Muslims, including three Saudi fugitives, of conspiring to commit terror attacks against U.S. targets in the country, but sentenced 11 of them to prison terms of up to 15 years for possessing explosives.

Two defendants, Jordanian Saud al-Khalayleh and Isam al-Barqawi, were acquitted for lack of evidence on charges of possessing explosives and plotting terror attacks. Prosecutors said the men had targeted the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Jordan.

The guilty verdict can be appealed.

The prosecution charged the 13-member cell, made up of three Saudi fugitives and 10 Jordanians in police custody, with possessing and intending to use explosive material and conspiring to carry out terror attacks.

Prosecutors also charged the group with targeting the U.S. Embassy in Amman and Jordanian military bases near the eastern Iraqi border, where the men thought American troops were stationed.

No attacks had been carried out when police uncovered the plot in December 2002.

Only one defendant, Zuhair Shdeifat, confessed to plotting attacks, telling military judges that the group sought to “defend Jordan’s soil” by purging it of U.S. forces. Shdeifat was sentenced to 7 years in jail.

The other nine Jordanians in custody had pleaded not guilty and said they were coerced into signing guilty confessions.

Mr. al-Barqawi, one of those acquitted, told reporters from the dock that the charges were false and that the defendants were prosecuted because “we have refused to surrender to the policies of Washington and Tel Aviv.

“Execution is our wish because it’s our path to martyrdom,” Mr. al-Barqawi said.

The defendants — bearded and wearing navy blue prison uniforms — shouted “God is our protector” as the verdict was issued. They earlier had bowed for prayers in the dock, interrupting proceedings in the small courtroom.

Mr. al-Khalayleh, a bus driver, is thought to be a distant relative of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian fugitive blamed for terror attacks in Iraq.

The supposed cell leader, schoolteacher Faisal al-Khalidi, was sentenced to 15 years in jail, but that was commuted to 7 years for humanitarian reasons.

Ahmad al-Chalabi and the three Saudis were sentenced to 15 years each, while two other defendants were sentenced to 7 years each. The remaining three defendants were sentenced to 12, 10 and six years each.

The indictment said the defendants sought to go to Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces. The defendants purportedly chose targets in Jordan when they realized they would not be able to reach Afghanistan.

None of the accused is suspected of belonging to the terror network al Qaeda, Jordanian security officials said on the condition of anonymity.

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