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NAIROBI, Kenya – A Kenyan court on Monday sentenced two Iranian nationals convicted of plotting attacks against Western targets to life in prison.
Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi were arrested in June 2012 and led officials to a 15-kilogram (33-pound) stash of the explosive RDX. Officials in Kenya say the two suspects may have been planning attacks on Israeli, American, British or Saudi Arabian interests in Kenya.
Magistrate Kaire Waweru Kiare sentenced the two to life in prison for committing acts intended to cause grievous harm. The two were sentenced to additional prison sentences of 15 and 10 years on lesser charges. The sentences will be served simultaneously, Kiare said.
Kiare said an expert for the prosecution, who testified that the cache of RDX explosives was capable of bringing down a tall building, influenced his sentencing decision. "I shudder to imagine the amount of life and property that would have been forever destroyed," the magistrate said.
"Even as I hear the accused persons mitigating and crying for mercy, there is yet a louder cry by the blood of the previous victims of terrorist attacks, the orphan, the widow and widower due to such heinous attacks. All are crying for justice," Kiare said.
Mohammad and Mousavi displayed little outward reaction when the sentences were read. Mohammad smiled before media cameras.
Defense lawyers said they would appeal.
"The decision is outrageous. It's wrong. It's illegal. It's a nullity. The magistrate has totally misconceived the law," David Kirimi who represented Mousavi, said.
Defence lawyer Wandugi Karathe, representing Mohammad, earlier urged the magistrate to give his client a non-custodial sentence, arguing that Mohammad "is remorseful of the circumstances that brought him to the court" and is a sole breadwinner for six children in Iran.
Karathe also argued that nobody had been harmed as a result of what his client was being accused of and asked the magistrate to consider Mohammad's health. He said Mohammad had undergone heart surgery and needs constant medication and that prison conditions will make his health "life threatening."
Mohammad's wife, Fatma Rhahimid, said through a translator that both men are innocent and their trial was heavily influenced by "extrajudicial forces."
Iranian agents are suspected in attacks or thwarted attacks around the globe in recent years, including in Azerbaijan, Thailand and India. Most of the plots had connections to Israeli targets. Kenyan anti-terror officials said the two Iranians are members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, an elite and secretive unit.
Police Sgt. Erick Opagal, an investigator with Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, asked the court last year to deny bail to the two because more than 85 kilograms (187 pounds) of the explosives that authorities say was shipped into Kenya has not been found.
The two Iranians arrived in Kenya on June 12, 2012, and traveled to coastal city of Mombasa on the same day to receive the explosives, Opagal's affidavit said. They traveled back to Nairobi after receiving the explosives from an accomplice who is still at large, it said.
Several resorts on Kenya's coast are Israeli-owned. Militants in 2002 bombed an Israeli-owned luxury hotel near Mombasa, killing 13 people. The militants also tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner at the same time. An al-Qaida operative was linked to those attacks.
Investigators believe that if the Iranian plot had been successful, suspicion would have naturally fallen not on Iran but instead on the Somali militant group al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has threatened to bring Nairobi's skyscrapers to the ground following Kenya's military push into Somalia in October 2011.