ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ten men were sentenced Tuesday to jail terms of between three to 20 years for plotting terror attacks with Islamist extremist rebels from neighboring Somalia.
Among those sentenced is a Kenyan national, Hassan Jarso, who pleaded guilty when first charged in May. He was sentenced with nine Ethiopians.
Federal court Judge Bahiru Darecha sentenced Jarso to 17 years in prison. Eleven men were originally charged with the terror-related crimes but one was acquitted.
Jarso had told the court that he joined al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, in 2009 when he went to Somalia. In 2011, Jarso fought with the militants against the African Union peacekeeping forces deployed there to bolster the weak United Nations-backed government. He said he was sent to Ethiopia to serve as al-Qaida's contact person in the country.
Two of his alleged Ethiopian accomplices were sentenced to 12 and 13 years. Prosecutors said the cell was making plans and getting supplies to attack political and economic targets in Ethiopia.
An Ethiopian man, who was charged with recruiting members to the cell and preaching extremism in mosques, was sentenced to 3 years and 3 months in prison. After the sentencing, his lawyer Temam Ababulga told the Associated Press that they would appeal the court's decision at the country's federal Supreme Court.
"My client is innocent. One ... (who) allegedly recruited him was set free by the court and the other person could not be found. We are taking our appeal to the higher court," Temam said.
Six of the cell members were sentenced in absentia to between 14 and 20 years in prison.
The sentences come amid signs of increasing militancy in the East African nation. Ethiopian troops moved into Somalia in early 2012 to fight al-Shabab.
Ethiopia's intelligence agency said early January that security forces arrested 15 people alleged to be members of a terror cell linked to al-Shabab.
Ethiopia's military campaign against the extremist rebels in Somalia from 2006 to 2009 and its current campaign in Somalia have angered al-Shabab.
Ethiopia's Federal Ministry in May issued a statement accusing an unnamed group of trying to declare jihad against the government and working to incite violence in a number of mosques across the country. The statement said a dozen suspects were recruited by the group from the country's Oromia, Tigray and Amhara regions to carry out illegal activities.
The government also expelled two Arabs who flew in from the Middle East on May 4. The government said the pair went to a mosque and tried to incite violence.