31 Al Qaeda men jailed by Lebanese court

Judge Nizar Khalil found the group from the Fatah al-Islam movement guilty of "forming a terrorist gang with the aim of undermining state authority as well as the possession and planting of explosives", a court source said. However, only 19 of the 31 are in custody. They were given five years prison terms with hard labour. The sentenced members are Syrian, Lebanese, Saudi Arabian and Palestinians.

The remaining 12 were sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment. Among them is the group's leader, Shaker al-Abssi. Fatah al-Islam fought a 15-week battle in 2007 at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon against the Lebanese army. The clashes left 400 people dead, including 168 Lebanese soldiers. Most members of group were caught after the fighting in Nahr al Bared, but their leader Shaker al Abssi managed to escape.

Abssi, a Jordanian-Palestinian, is considered a close associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, with whom he allegedly helped plan the assassination of a US diplomat, Laurence Foley, in Amman in 2002. Zarqawi, who was the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Baghdad, was killed in a US raid in Iraq in 2006.

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