Lebanon jails 31 over Al-Qaeda-linked plots

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BEIRUT: A Lebanese military court handed 31 alleged members of the Al-Qaeda-inspired group Fatah Al-Islam prison terms of up to 15 years for terrorism, a judicial source said on Wednesday.

Judge Nizar Khalil found the suspects — including a top operative — guilty of "forming a terrorist gang with the aim of undermining state authority, incitement to killing, theft and vandalism as well as the possession and planting of explosives," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Nineteen of the 31 charged, including Syrian, Saudi, Palestinian and Lebanese nationals, are in custody. They were given prison terms of one to five years with hard labor.

The remaining 12 were sentenced in absentia by the military court late on Tuesday to 15 years imprisonment, among them the group’s top operative Shaker Al-Abssi, dubbed the "Prince of Fatah Al-Islam."

Abssi is widely believed to have gone into hiding in the southern Lebanon Palestinian camp of Ain Al-Hilweh following a 2007 war between Fatah Al-Islam and the army.

The 15-week standoff at the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon killed 400 people, including 168 soldiers, and displaced some 30,000 refugees from the camp, which was levelled in the conflict.

In 2008, Lebanese newspapers reported Abssi was captured in Syria, but the reports were never confirmed.

Fatah Al-Islam has also been linked to deadly bombings targeting UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon and civilian buses.

By longstanding convention, the army does not enter Lebanon’s impoverished refugee camps, home to an estimated 250,000 Palestinians. Ain Al-Hilweh, the largest of 12 camps, is widely viewed as a refuge for extremists and fugitives.

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