TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A Tunisian court on Tuesday convicted 16 men of theft and destruction of property for looting and burning down an American school during an attack on the nearby U.S. embassy, and sentenced them to two years each in prison.
Two others involved in the school attack received suspended sentences while four were acquitted due to lack of evidence, the men's defense lawyer, Anwar Ouled Ali said.
The school was razed after some 2,000 Tunisians targeted the nearby U.S. embassy in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012, over a U.S. movie that they felt insulted Islam. The violence and the government's initially weak response, as well as the subsequent light punishments doled out to those involved in the embassy raid strained relations between the two countries.
Embassy staffers were hiding inside the embassy as the attackers scaled the walls and destroyed cars parked in the compound. Tunisian security forces were absent until the president himself had to send in his personal guard, resulting in the death of four of the attackers.
It followed similar incidents at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stephens.
Just 20 people were arrested for the attack on the embassy and then released in May 2013 with two-year suspended sentences, resulting in a rebuke by the U.S. embassy saying "the verdicts do not correspond appropriately to the extent and severity of the damage and violence that took place."
The prosecution appealed the case and a new verdict in that trial is expected July 1.
The U.S. has called for the investigation and arrest of those behind the attack, which are widely believed to include Seifallah Ben Hassine, the leader of the ultraconservative Ansar al-Shariah movement, who fled to Libya shortly afterward.
The attack embarrassed the Tunisian government and resulted in the termination of its policy of tolerance toward hard-line Islamists.