A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced 27 people to prison for planning a series of attacks against U.S. forces in Qatar and Kuwait, with more than half of the defendants charged on Wednesday with also trying to join forces with a group in Syria to smuggle fighters to Iraq, official media reports said.
The verdicts were announced by the official Saudi Press Agency. The state media reports did not say when the al-Qaida-linked attacks were planned, and did not name the Syrian group with which 14 of the defendants allegedly tried to form an alliance.
The al-Qaida-linked members on trial included 25 Saudis, a Qatari and an Afghan national. They were given varying sentences of between six months to 30 years in prison. The state news agency said the group planned to attack U.S. troops in Qatar with grenades, rockets and mortar fire.
The U.S. conducts missions over Iraq from al-Udeid air base in Qatar. It also has bases in Kuwait.
The cell is comprised of 41 members, 38 of which are Saudi nationals. The remaining three are from Qatar, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Verdicts for 13 people were handed down late Tuesday and another 14 were sentenced on Wednesday.
The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, created to try terrorism cases, found members of the group guilty of planning to send someone to Iraq for training on how to make car bombs to target foreign troops in Qatar and Kuwait. They were also found guilty of planning to carry out directives from al-Qaida's branch in Iraq.
One of the group's alleged leaders, a Qatari national, received a 30-year prison sentence. Another alleged cell leader, a Saudi national, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the SPA reported. The Afghani was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered deported upon his release on charges he helped raise money for fighters in his home country.
In the case of the three Shiite Saudi nationals, the Specialized Criminal Court said the men were guilty of chanting hostile slogans to destabilize the country, using violence during protests and helping provide cover for someone opening firing at police.
Protests briefly broke out in al-Awamiya in the Eastern Province last week after revered Saudi Shiite cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr was sentenced to death for a number of charges that largely related to his support for anti-government protests.
Human rights activists in Saudi Arabia have long complained that the courts often give protesters harsher sentences than those handed down to extremist fighters.