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Jordan court convicts three militants

/ Source: The Associated Press

A military court Monday convicted three Muslim militants, including the nephew of a top al-Qaida suspect, of conspiring to attack American and Israeli tourists in Jordan and sentenced each to three years in jail.

“Allah will punish you tyrants!” main defendant Omar Sayel al-Khalayleh shouted at the three judges after the verdict.

Al-Khalayleh, 19, is the nephew of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom Western and Jordanian officials say is a lieutenant of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Al-Zarqawi’s real name is Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh.

Al-Khalayleh and his co-defendants also shouted that Jordan was an “American spy” — a common slogan among terror suspects who allege that Jordan is prosecuting them to boost its standing with the United States.

The presiding judge in the State Security Court, Col. Fawaz Buquor, said al-Khalayleh was influenced by the ideology of his uncle, but the judge did not say he had found a direct link between the terror conspiracy and al-Zarqawi.

U.S. officials have offered a $10 million reward for al-Zarqawi’s capture, saying he is trying to build a network of foreign militants in neighboring Iraq to work for al-Qaida, the group blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

“Through the relationship with his uncle ... Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the first defendant took up an ideology which regarded the ruling regime in the kingdom as infidel. He espoused jihad (holy war) in the Jordanian arena through attacking tourists,” Buquor said.

The judge said he was convinced that al-Khalayleh was the leader of the three-man cell, which included Hamza Mohammed Al-Momani, 20, and police Cpl. Ayman al-Khawaldeh, 25. The police fired al-Khawaldeh after the plot was uncovered last year.

Police arrested the three in May 2003, before they could execute their plans.

They each received three years in prison at hard labor. They can appeal the verdict and sentence.

The three had pleaded innocent to conspiracy charges and plotting to attack liquor stores in Jordan. The Islamic religion does not permit alcohol.

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Obeidat, the prosecutor, told the court that al-Khalayleh had received instructions from al-Zarqawi to attack Jordanian security officials as well as American and Israeli tourists.

In December 2002, al-Khalayleh met al-Momani to plan attacks on tourists, according to the indictment. Their primary target was the city of Ajloun, where tourists visit the Arab castle Qalat ar-Rabad, which was built in the 12th century against the crusaders. Ajloun is 47 miles north of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

The indictment said their principal target among Jordanian officials was intelligence officer Ali Burjak, who is known for his investigation of Islamic extremists.

Burjak escaped a car bombing which killed two passers-by in 2002. The three were not charged with that.

Al-Zarqawi left Jordan and went to Afghanistan in 1999, according to the indictment. There he maintained telephone contact with his nephew, urging him to join al-Qaida-run camps and learn how to make bombs.

Al-Zarqawi is blamed for a terror plot that Jordan announced last month it had foiled. Authorities say 10 suspects working under him plotted to use chemicals and explosives to blow up Jordan’s secret service agency, the prime minister’s office and the U.S. Embassy.

Al-Zarqawi is also accused of orchestrating the assassination of U.S. aid worker Laurence Foley in Amman in 2002. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a Jordanian military court last month.