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Thu, Jun 24, 2010
AFP

SARGODHA, Pakistan, June 24, 2010 (AFP) - A Pakistani court on Thursday sentenced five Americans to 10 years each in jail after finding them guilty of criminal conspiracy and funding a terrorist group, officials said.

The five Americans aged 19 to 25 had been on trial in a closed court behind prison walls in the eastern city of Sargodha since March. The judge found them guilty of two charges, but acquitted them of three other charges.

Both the defence and the prosecution vowed to appeal the verdict, which saw each defendant handed down concurrent sentences of 10 and five years and fined 70,000 rupees (S$2,100).

"We will appeal the verdict and ask for 20 years," said Rana Bakhtiar, the deputy prosecutor general representing the Punjab provincial government in the case.

The Americans - of Egyptian, Eritrean, Pakistani and Yemeni descent - were arrested in December in Sargodha on charges of plotting a terror attack.

Umar Farooq, Waqar Hussain, Rami Zamzam, Ahmad Abdullah Mini and Amman Hassan Yammer had faced a maximum punishment of life in prison if convicted.

"They were acquitted of three charges but convicted on two. For criminal conspiracy they were sentenced to 10 years in prison plus 50,000 rupees' fine," defence lawyer Hassan Katchela told AFP.

"For funding a banned terrorist organisation they were imprisoned for five years each plus 20,000 rupees' fine," he said.

"We are surprised by the decision. We respect the judgement but this was not a case for a conviction. We will file an appeal against the decision."

The defendants pleaded their innocence, saying they came to Pakistan to attend a wedding and wanted to travel onto Afghanistan to do humanitarian work.

Prosecutors and police accused them of funding a banned group and conspiring to carry out an act of terror within Pakistan or an allied country.

Pakistani officials have said the young men planned to travel to neighbouring Afghanistan and join up with Taliban-led militants fighting US and NATO troops.

Investigators claimed that the men planned to travel to South Waziristan, a training ground for Islamist militants in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt and a region targeted by a major military operation last year.

The trial was held under tight security and reporters were not allowed near the prison where the accused have been held.

Although the Pakistani government is a close US ally in the war on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the country is gripped by widespread anti-Americanism where many blame deteriorating security on the alliance.

Washington has put the government and military under major pressure to do more to eliminate Islamist networks that have carved out havens in the country's northwest and infiltrate Afghanistan to attack Western troops.

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