AMMAN, (Reuters) – A Jordanian military court sentenced to death on Thursday an Iraqi woman who tried to carry out a suicide bombing and six other people for planning attacks which killed 60 people in Amman last year.
Sajida al-Rishawi, the only defendant in custody, and the others who were tried in absentia were found guilty of conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts causing death and destruction, and illegal possession of weapons and explosives.
The simultaneous bombings of three hotels in the Jordanian capital in November were claimed by al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq at that time, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Rishawi, from the western Iraqi town of Ramadi, wore a Muslim headscarf and a blue prison gown in court and showed little emotion when the sentence was passed.
“She expected either the death sentence or to be sent back to Iraq,” said her lawyer Hussein al-Masri, who said she had not helped him gather information to help her defence. “She refused to give me her family address in Iraq because she did not want them to be harmed. So neither her family nor the party that sent her helped us present any evidence that might help her case.”
Masri added that he would appeal against the verdict.
Charges against Zarqawi, originally charged in the case, were dropped after he was killed in Iraq in June.
Death sentences in Jordan are carried out by hanging. At least two militants were executed this year for the murder of a U.S. diplomat although it is more common for security prisoners to have their death sentences commuted to life terms.
Prosecutors said Rishawi tried to blow herself up with her suicide bomber husband, who struck at the Radisson hotel during a wedding reception on Nov. 9, 2005. Two other hotels — the Hyatt and Days Inn — were targeted in simultaneous attacks.
Jordanian officials identified her as a sister of Samir Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, a former Zarqawi aide who was killed by U.S forces in Iraq.
Rishawi made a televised confession a few days after the blasts, describing her attempts to detonate an explosives-laden belt. But in court she pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Masri said earlier this year that Rishawi told him her confessions were extracted under torture, but that he had no proof of this.
The lawyer said Rishawi, who told the court she had married her husband Ali Hussein al-Shimeri a day before coming to Jordan, knew about the bomb plot only when her husband forced her to wear the suicide belt hours before the attack.
She was arrested shortly afterwards when she tried to hide with the family of her sister’s husband, a Jordanian killed in clashes with U.S. forces in Iraq.
Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the bombings and, in an internet audiotape, said the hotels were home to U.S. and Israeli spies.
Zarqawi, a Jordanian, had already been sentenced to death in absentia for involvement in plots to destabilise Jordan.
Thursday’s verdicts came almost a month after Jordan’s parliament passed a tougher anti-terrorism law that includes preventive detention of suspects. The measure was a response to the triple suicide bombings.