A Tunisian appeal court sentenced six men to up to 20 years in prison for recruiting militants and planning to join insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces in Iraq, lawyers and court officials said on Monday.
The Tunis Appeals Court upheld the conviction of Mohamed Bajouya for recruiting militants and “giving them ideological and military training to carry out terrorist attacks” in Iraq, they said.
Bajouya, 23, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, the maximum term for terrorism offences since the government toughened its anti-terrorism law in December 2003, lawyers said.
The court sentenced the other five to between five and 10 years on charges of belonging to a “terrorist group based abroad” and recruiting people to carry out “terrorist attacks outside the country”.
Four others were acquitted and released, lawyers and court hofficials said. The hearing ended in the early hours of Sunday and the details were made public on Monday.
The government named the group as Ansar al Islam which it said had been led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq.
Bajouya and nine other men were arrested last year and sentenced to between 10 and 30 years in prison by a lower court in April this year.
They had appealed against ruling of the lower court, which also sentenced the other three men in absentia to 30 years in prison.
All the defendants denied the charges, saying they confessed earlier under duress while in custody. The authorities dismissed the allegations.
The Tunis government is a staunch U.S. ally in its war against terrorism and is keen to cut off the flow of fighters willing to swell the ranks of Iraqi insurgents.