Hardline Sunni cleric Ahmad Al Assir has been sentenced to 20 years of hard labour by Lebanon’s Military Court on Monday, eight years after deadly clashes between his supporters and the army in the southern city of Sidon threatened to spill into sectarian conflict, state media said.
Al Assir was convicted for his involvement in a 2014 attack in north Lebanon that killed two Lebanese soldiers, arming the hit squad that carried it out and inciting the killings, the National News Agency said.
The military court stripped Al Assir of his civil rights and fined him 51 million Lebanese pounds ($124,000 at the official exchange rate but $2,684 at the current market rate).
He was sentenced to death in 2017 for inciting attacks on the army in 2013. An appeal against the sentence is pending.
Al Assir gained prominence after the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011 for supporting Syrian rebels and speaking out against Shiite Hezbollah and its involvement in the conflict. Clashes between his supporters and the army sparked fears of Syria’s war spilling into sectarian battles in Lebanon. He accused Hezbollah of instigating the fighting.
Iran-backed Hezbollah has intervened in the conflict alongside Syrian President Bashar Al Assad against predominantly Sunni protesters and rebels.
Al Assir became an influential figure in the southern city of Sidon, the main gate to Hezbollah's stronghold in the south, where his supporters staged weekly sit-ins that turned deadly.
In 2013 clashes between Al Assir supporters and the army left 18 soldiers dead. He went on the run for two years before he was arrested at an airport in 2015 while attempting to flee to Egypt in disguise.
Popular Lebanese singer Fadl Shaker was one of Al Assir's followers. He was last year sentenced in absentia to 22 years of prison including 15 years of hard labour.
He remains a wanted fugitive hiding in a Palestinian camp in Saida.