07/09/2009, 00.00
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Saudi court sentences 330 terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda

Defendants carried out a series of attacks across the kingdom between 2003 and 2006. One extremist is sentenced to death; others, to jail terms or house arrests. It is the first terrorism trial in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Saudi Court yesterday found 330 militants linked to al-Qaeda guilty for taking part in a series of attacks across the country, starting in May 2003 till 2006. One defendant was given the death penalty; the others got life imprisonment or house arrest.

Charges include belonging to a “deviant group,” Saudi Arabia’s expression for al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as for supporting and funding terrorist activities, sending militants to areas of conflict to fight, and conspiracy to create chaos and disrupt security.

Last October, Saudi Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul Aziz announced that charges had been laid against 991 suspected al-Qaeda militants.

The court yesterday also acquitted some of the accused, whereas those who were found guilty can exercise their right to appeal against the sentences.

The trials against al-Qaeda militants represent a major shift in Saudi Arabia. Until recently the government had been reluctant to try suspected militants, fearing a backlash by domestic sympathisers.

Islamic extremists have been responsible for more than 30 attacks in the conservative Muslim kingdom since May 2003, and the authorities claimed to have foiled 160 planned attacks, including some against government offices and police stations.

According to official figures 90 civilians and 74 members of the security forces have been killed, whilst 439 civilians and 657 members of the security forces have been injured.

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