Militants get death sentence for murder of American aid worker

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

AMMAN, Jordan -- Eight al-Qaida-linked militants were convicted and sentenced to death Tuesday in the murder of a U.S. aid employee in 2002, but six of them -- including a Jordanian terror chief -- remain at large.

The slaying of Laurence Foley in 2002 stunned Jordan, a close U.S. ally and peace partner with Israel.

A subsequent police crackdown exposed a terrorist cell that had allegedly planned Foley's assassination as the first of several attacks inside the Arab country.

A U.S. Embassy issued a statement thanking Jordanian authorities for "bringing those responsible for Larry's murder to justice" after the 10-month trial.

The statement vowed to "remain resolved to continue his work to improve the lives of ordinary Jordanians and to bring the people of our two nations closer together."

Murdered outside home

Foley, a 60-year-old Amman-based administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was gunned down outside his home on Oct. 28, 2002.

Military court president Col. Fawaz Buqour sentenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- also known as Ahmed al-Khalayleh -- and seven other Arabs to death for conspiring to murder Foley.

Al-Zarqawi is thought to be a close associate of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He and five others remain at large.

The Libyan man accused of pulling the trigger, Salem bin Suweid, and the driver of the getaway car, Jordanian Yasser Freihat, were in court.

So were three Jordanians charged with conspiracy. Mohammed Amin Abu-Saeed and Mohammed De'mes received terms of six and 15 years respectively, while Numan al-Hirsh was acquitted after the court found there was no evidence implicating him in the conspiracy.

Standing in the dock wearing dark blue prison uniforms, the five men shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," and "this verdict is unfair" as Buqour read it out. A military helicopter hovered above the courthouse.

Appeals planned

The men had pleaded innocent to the charges and told the court their confessions had been extracted under duress. Sameeh Khreis, attorney for the defendants, said the men sentenced Tuesday will appeal the verdicts.

Jordan has blamed Foley's killing on al-Qaida, but prosecutors did not mention the terror group in the initial indictment.

They did say, however, that at least half of the suspects had links with al-Zarqawi, who allegedly provided bin Suweid with weapons and $62,000 to finance the plot.

The indictment said bin Suweid began recruiting militants in Syria in 1997. He came to Jordan late in 1999 using a forged Tunisian passport. Automatic weapons, explosives and detonators had been smuggled from Iraq in batches starting in June 2002.

Jordan, a moderate Arab nation, has been the target of several terror plots, but Foley's killing was the only attack linked to bin Suweid's terror conspiracy, which had also allegedly planned to target unspecified American and Israeli interests in Jordan.

Earlier, 22 Islamic extremists were convicted of plotting to attack U.S. and Israeli tourists using bombs and poison gas during Jordan's millennium celebrations. The plot, in which al-Zarqawi was also allegedly involved, was foiled in November 1999 and blamed on bin Laden.

Jordanian and American officials say several al-Qaida-linked terror suspects were arrested last week after entering Jordan from Syria with plans to attack the U.S. Embassy, government ministries and other targets. At least three others in the latest plot remain at large.

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