TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – A Tunisian court convicted 18 Islamic militants Saturday of terrorism-related charges in connection with deadly clashes with security forces over a year ago, a defense lawyer said.
The Tunis court delivered sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison to members of the so-called Sidi Bouzid cell, named for the central Tunisian region they are from, lawyer Sadi Ben Amor said.
The cell is allegedly tied to a group called the Soldiers of Assan Ibn Al Fourat, which was involved in clashes with Tunisian security forces in December 2006 and January 2007 in which 14 people were killed.
Many of those convicted Saturday were accused of knowing about a planned terror plot by the “Soldiers” group, but not alerting authorities.
While under questioning of investigators, the accused all denied the charges, and claimed that confessions they made were extracted through torture, Ben Amor said.
One of the suspects who received an eight-year sentence, Mokhtar Akkouri, was accused of having sold the family home he inherited to help finance a terror organization, Ben Amor said.
The suspected “ideologue” of the Sidi Bouzid group, a 53-year-old blind former male nurse named Khatib Boukhari, was given a three-year sentence for not alerting authorities to a terrorist plot and having hosted a meeting of the plotters at his home. The case against Boukhari’s son, Oussama, was thrown out.
In February, a Tunisian appeals court upheld convictions of 30 people connected to the plot, affirming a death sentence for one militant, 24-year-old Saber Ragoubi, and life sentences against eight others.
Clashes between security forces and Islamic groups are relatively rare in Tunisia, widely considered a haven of stability in North Africa.