TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – Two government officials have been convicted and sentenced to prison in connection with an alleged plot to carry out terror attacks and overthrow the Tunisian government, according to their lawyer and court documents.
The documents were the first public information about the case against national security official Souhail Guezdah, deputy prison chief Sami Belhaj Aissa and three other defendants.
Guezdah, a local chief of Tunisia’s national security force, and Hicham Barrak, a sports teacher, were sentenced Wednesday to nine years in prison on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and of having provided information to help plot terrorist attacks.
Hedhili Djait, a cell phone vendor, was sentenced to eight years on similar charges and for having provided the group with its hideout.
Aissa, deputy chief of the Borj El Amri prison near Tunis, and Faouzi Ayachi Alimi, whose profession was not identified on the court documents, were handed four-year sentences for not having warned authorities that terrorist attacks were being planned.
The court in the capital, Tunis, said the men, who belonged to the Salafist strain of Islam, had rented a house as a hideout in the central Tunisia town of Kairouan, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the capital, Tunis. Kairouan is considered one of Islam’s holiest cities.
The defendants denied all the accusations and defense lawyer Samir Ben Amor said he intended to appeal. “Their file is empty,” Ben Amor told The Associated Press, saying that no documents or other material evidence had been produced to back the accusations. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, say that Tunisian court proceedings often fail to meet international standards.
Ben Amor said that about 1,000 people have been sentenced or indicted in Tunisia under a tough new law passed in 2003 to boost anti-terrorism efforts. The government has not confirmed that figure.
A moderate Muslim nation and a Western ally, Tunisia is a mass tourism destination and does not face the same terrorism threats as its neighbor, Algeria. But various security observers say the country has experienced a rise of radical Islam similar to the rest of North Africa.