RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi Arabian court on Wednesday sentenced a top al-Qaeda strategist to death and jailed 15 others for their role in a series of attacks in the kingdom last decade, Saudi newspapers reported on Thursday.
The judge ordered that the body of Faris al-Zahrani, also known as Abu Jandal al-Azdi, be displayed in public after his death in the most severe form of punishment available under the kingdom’s Islamic law, al-Madina and Arab News dailies reported.
From 2003 to 2006 the militant group attacked residential compounds for expatriates and government facilities, killing dozens of Saudis and foreigners in an effort to end the reign of the al-Saud family and expel non-Muslims from the country.
The Saudi authorities ended the campaign by arresting thousands of suspected militants and launching a media campaign to discredit their ideology with the backing of influential clerics and tribal leaders.
Zahrani was found guilty of offences that included embracing extremist ideologies, shedding the blood of Muslims and others, targeting security officials, harboring fugitives and planning the overthrow of Gulf monarchies.
State news agency SPA reported that the Saudi government had made efforts to rehabilitate him, but Zahrani was defied the authority of the state throughout his trial and argued that the killing of security personnel was justified by his faith.
“He showed every sign that if released he would continue to propagate his ideas”, said the SPA report.
The 15 other men convicted as militants were given sentences ranging from one to 20 years and were banned from leaving Saudi Arabia after their sentences are served. They and Zahrani have 30 days to appeal their sentences.
Zahrani, whom local media said was al-Qaeda’s second-most important operative in the country, was arrested in Abha, a city near the Yemeni border, in August 2004.
Although al-Qaeda was effectively driven out of the kingdom in 2006, some of its members who fled Saudi Arabia for Yemen later helped form Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, now one of the group’s most active branches.
Saudi courts have this year sentenced dozens of convicted militants for their role in last decade’s attacks and for other offences, including fighting in Iraq.
Some local and international human rights groups have accused the government of using its campaign against militants to also target some peaceful political activists. The Saudi authorities have denied this charge.
Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky