Taliban financiers on way to jail

Six men convicted of terrorism offences spent their last day as free men before their expected surrender to authorities today.

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ABU DHABI // Six men convicted of terrorism offences spent their last day as free men before their expected surrender to authorities today. The Federal Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that five Emiratis and one Afghan, who were all free on bail, were guilty of financing the Taliban, promoting jihad and supporting terrorism. Sentences of either three or four years' imprisonment were handed down.

The verdict was announced yesterday in their absence inside the courtroom of Justice Fallah al Hajiri. Neither the public prosecutor nor the defendants' lawyer was present for the closed hearing. The case follows the largest round-up of UAE nationals accused of terrorism-related offences. At 3am on October 30, 2008, police officers from several emirates raided the homes of 21 men across Khor Fakhan.

The men were detained for 90 days, the constitutional limit for holding suspects without charge. Thirteen were released without charge, and one Egyptian was deported without trial, according to prosecution sources. The remaining eight were held in the maximum-security facility in Abu Dhabi operated by the State Security Department. Their case was turned over to the Federal Supreme Court, which handles matters of state security and whose verdicts are not subject to appeal. The men were released on bail earlier this year.

They all worshipped at Abdul Rahman Al Dakhal Masjid in Khor Fakhan. According to previous court hearings, they lived at the mosque for 10 days before their arrests, a practice known as i'atekaf in which Muslims isolate themselves and devote themselves to reading the Quran. The primary suspects, RD and AH, were found guilty of setting up a group "to enforce a strict code of Islam", according to court documents.

They were also found guilty of supporting terrorism, and of beating a Bangladeshi man for speaking to a woman on the phone. Both were sentenced to four years in prison. AS, an Emirati, got three years for promoting jihad and financing the Taliban. RM was found guilty of downloading military videos and showing them at group gatherings. The court also found him guilty of giving the Afghan defendant Dh30,000 (US$8,100), which prosecutors say went to the Taliban. He received three years.

Court documents showed that he had previously been arrested on terrorism charges, in 2002. Then, he was acquitted. BG got three years for "teaching jihad" to children through the Quranic school at the mosque. MG, the Afghan imam of the mosque where the men worshipped, was sentenced to three years for channelling the money he raised from the other defendants to the Taliban. Public prosecutors and the court did not reveal how the money was transferred to the Taliban or from whom it was received.

The time already served will count towards the men's sentences. All had pleaded not guilty and claimed they were coerced into signing confessions. The case was initially handled by Chief Justice Shehab al Hammedi, who presides over all state security matters. However, according to a source inside the Attorney General's Office, he passed the case to another judge because of a conflict of interest.

"Justice al Hamadi is from the same town as the men and knew many of the family members of the defendants," the source said. None of the defendants were in court on Tuesday. Yesterday, they were still free in Khor Fakhan. A relative of one of the men, who asked not to be named, said: "They will spend their day with their families and then present themselves to the police to serve the sentences."