Jordanian military court upholds death penalty for Calif. native

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AMMAN, Jordan -- A military court upheld a guilty verdict and death sentence Sunday against a Jordanian-American accused of conspiring to carry out poison gas attacks on American and Israeli targets in the kingdom three years ago.

The ruling came nearly two months after an appeals court ordered a retrial, saying military judges in State Security Court had insufficient evidence to convict Raed Hijazi, 33, last February of possessing arms and manufacturing explosives.

"The State Security Court decided not to comply with the ruling of the appeals court," said Col. Fawaz Buqour, presiding over a three-judge panel.

Hijazi, wearing a navy blue prison uniform, stood silently as the verdict was read out in a courtroom guarded by a dozen armed policemen.

Hijazi -- who was born in San Jose, Calif., and carries Jordanian and American passports -- had pleaded innocent to seven charges, including possession of arms and explosives and conspiring to blow up Jordanian sites frequented by American and Israeli tourists during the New Year 2000 celebrations.

His father, Mohammad, told reporters his son would appeal.

"He didn't anything wrong, he is innocent," he shouted. "The laws here are inhumane and unjust, they're simply the laws of the jungle."

Defense attorney Sameeh Khreis called the verdict "politically motivated," and said Jordan was merely trying to "prove to the Americans that it's combating terrorism."

The military prosecutors said Hijazi planned to attack sites including Mount Nebo, from which tradition says Moses saw the promised land, and a Christian settlement along the Jordan River where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus Christ.

In the initial verdict on Feb. 11, the military court convicted Hijazi of arms possession and creating explosives. But it dismissed charges that he belonged to the terror group al-Qaida, and the judges found no evidence that the banned group was present in Jordan. But the court

The appeals court ruled on Oct. 6 that Hijazi's possession of lethal acids was "not enough evidence to prove the offense of manufacturing explosives." It also said the military court had not proven that Hijazi had automatic weapons in his possession.

However, the court said it had found Hijazi to be a conspirator with two others convicted in absentia "to carry out a terrorist action against (Israeli) tourists in Jordan."

The appeals court did not rule on Hijazi's fellow conspirators, who had been sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison with hard labor. They are Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, and Loa'i Mohammed Haj Bakr al-Saqa, a Syrian.

The appeals court decision led to speculation that Hijazi might be acquitted or receive a commuted sentence because of a lack of evidence linking him to al-Qaida. That fizzled away with the Oct. 28 assassination of American diplomat Laurence Foley, allegedly by two al-Qaida operatives, when Jordan admitted for the first time the presence of the terror group on its soil.

Hijazi was arrested in Syria and extradited to Jordan in October 2000. He testified in last year's trial that he had no links with Osama bin Laden and that he did not plot terror attacks because to do so would be against the teachings of Islam.

Military court documents said Hijazi was first exposed to radical Islam while studying business at California State University, Sacramento, in 1991. The court heard Hijazi had received military training in Afghanistan in 1999 and had returned to Syria, intending to go to Jordan. But Jordanian security agents foiled his plot by arresting the other members of his cell.


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