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Lebanese court jails ex-minister for 13 years over terror plot

A military court in Lebanon has sentenced a former minister to 13 years in jail with hard labor, for attempting to carry out terrorist acts. Michel Samaha's previous sentence was deemed to have been too lenient.

Judicial officials said on Friday that the country's Military Appeals Court had sentenced the former information minister to 13 years' imprisonment with hard labor, upping the severity of a previous sentence.

Samaha was convicted of transporting explosives to carry out attacks and assassinations of political and religious figures in Lebanon with help from Syria's security services.

Prosecutors had asked for the sentence to be even tougher. "The prosecution asked for the death penalty, but he was sentenced to 13 years with hard labor," a judicial source told the AFP news agency.

Samaha, a Christian politician who formally served as an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was Lebanon's information minister from 1992 to 1995.

He was detained in 2012 and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for plotting bombings at Syria's behest. However, that conviction was quashed, and the court agreed in January to release him on $100,000 bail (87,000 euros), provided he did not leave the country pending the retrial.

According to Lebanese law, the actual length of Samaha's sentence will now amount to around 10 years.

'Slap in face for Damascus'

Mourning of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri

Lebanon last year remembered the death of Rafiq Hariri, 10 years on

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanon's leading Sunni Muslim politician, welcomed the verdict. Hariri's ex-premier father, Rafiq, was

assassinated in a truck bombing in 2005.

"The terrorist Samaha will return today to prison, which is the right place for anyone that plans to kill innocents and drag Lebanon into sectarian strife and civil war," Hariri said.

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour claimed the new sentence was "a slap in the face for the terrorist, criminal regime in Damascus."

Syria had kept a military presence in Lebanon throughout that country's 1975-90 civil war, and finally withdrew its troops in the face of mass protests sparked by Hariri's murder. Following the pullout, there was a series of killings of prominent Lebanese opponents of the Damascus regime.

The Syrian civil war has

increased tensions within Lebanon,

between Sunni elements and both Shiite and Christian groups who support Assad.

rc/jil (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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