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Jordan convicts mentor of Iraq's al-Qaida chief

A military court in Jordan on Thursday convicted the Palestinian-born mentor of al-Qaida in Iraq's slain leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on terrorism charges and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Isam Mohammed Taher al-Barqawi, better known as Sheik Abu-Mohammed al-Maqdisi, was found guilty of "plotting terrorism" and recruiting militants in Jordan to join the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Three other Jordanian-Palestinians, including a fugitive who was tried in absentia, were found guilty of the same charges. The fugitive also received a five year sentence, while the other two were handed 2 1/2 year prison terms. The court said the two had no previous militant record and that it wanted to give them another chance to repent.

The four were also charged with attempting to harm Jordan's relations with Afghanistan. The three on trial had pleaded not guilty in January.

The trial was one of the more prominent cases in recent months because it involved al-Maqdisi, who was often praised in Internet writings by al-Zarqawi. The slain al-Qaida in Iraq leader had described him as his mentor.

Al-Maqdisi and al-Zarqawi shared a cell block between 1995 and 1999, after which al-Zarqawi was released under a special amnesty by Jordan's king and went on to lead al-Qaida in Iraq before he was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006.

Al-Maqdisi was imprisoned a second time and released in 2008 after three years in jail for encouraging attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

He was arrested again, along with the other two defendants in a police sweep late last year. Authorities never released any details on the operation.

On Thursday, al-Maqdisi stood behind bars along with the two other defendants in a small and stuffy courtroom in Amman's eastern suburbs, heavily guarded by armed police. Sporting a long beard and wearing a dark blue prison uniform, he shouted at the judge when the sentence was handed down.

"You are convicting us of wrongdoing for something that our religion condones, which is standing by fellow Muslims against the American occupiers of Muslim land in Afghanistan," he said, raising his right arm and pointing his finger at the three-man tribunal.

"Putting us in jail will not dissuade us from supporting the Mujahedeen," he said, referring to Muslim holy warriors.

"We will continue to support them, even if you sentence us to death. We will continue to be fighters until the day we die," he shouted.

Lawyer Majed Liftawi and two other attorneys said they will appeal the sentences.

The indictment said al-Maqdisi and his cell sought to help the Taliban in their "terror attacks" against U.S. and other troops in Afghanistan.

It said the four raised funds from unspecified donors in Jordan and tried to go to Afghanistan to join the Taliban but their plan failed and because al-Maqdisi was arrested.