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Kuwaiti court acquits 8 of plot to bomb U.S. base

KUWAIT (Reuters) - A Kuwaiti court acquitted eight Kuwaitis of plotting to bomb a U.S. Army camp in the Gulf Arab state, a major ally of Washington, one of the defendant’s lawyers said on Monday.

Most of the defendants were detained in August and charged of planning to bomb Camp Arifjan, a vast logistics base for the U.S. military in the desert south of the capital. Authorities had previously said the plot was linked to al Qaeda.

“They were all acquitted. I believe justice was done,” attorney Adel al-Abdul Hadi said, adding that five of the men could be released later in the day. Of the eight, two were tried in absentia and one was serving time for another crime, he said.

The prosecution can still appeal the verdict, and generally does appeal in cases linked to Islamist militancy. The ruling by a criminal court was issued without immediate explanation.

“This is good news, there was no evidence against them,” liberal analyst Shamlan al-Eissa said. He said the government should concentrate more on fighting the culture of religious extremism in Kuwait, which he said was at the root of militancy.

“Fighting terrorism should be by spreading freedoms, encouraging arts and artists, the theater and music,” he said.

Kuwait, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, waged a largely successful campaign to stamp out violence by Islamist militants after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities and the Iraq war.

Camp Arifjan serves as a staging ground for troops serving in Iraq. Kuwait’s position as a key U.S. ally in the region was cemented after the 1991 Gulf War that liberated it from a seven-month Iraqi occupation under Saddam Hussein.

Kuwait was later the launch pad of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam in 2003.

Some Islamists oppose the American military presence in Kuwait, and the U.S. military has occasionally been the target of al Qaeda-inspired attacks, including a raid that killed one U.S. Marine and wounded another in October 2002.

When Kuwaiti authorities announced the arrests in August, a security official told Reuters the group also planned to attack the country’s Shuaiba oil refinery. However, the court did not charge them on any counts related to that facility.

In a separate case, Kuwait said earlier this month that authorities had detained several people in a security probe, following media reports that a number of Kuwaitis and foreigners were being held on suspicion of spying on military installations for Iran. That case was unrelated to the bomb plot case.

Reporting by Diana Elias; Editing by Samia Nakhoul