Kuwait sentences seven men to death for Shiite mosque bombing
KUWAIT CITY - A Kuwaiti court sentenced seven men to death on Tuesday, five of them in absentia, for their roles in a deadly Shiite mosque bombing claimed by the Islamic State group.
A total of 29 defendants, seven of them women, had been on trial on charges of helping a Saudi suicide bomber carry out the June 26 attack which killed 26 Shiite worshippers and wounded 227.
It was the bloodiest attack in Kuwait's history.
"The court draws attention to the dangers of this extremist ideology that resorts to terrorism for its implementation," judge Mohammad al-Duaij said before reading out the verdicts in a packed courtroom.
He called on authorities to root out the ideology of the jihadists.
Among those he sentenced to death was Abdulrahman Sabah Saud, a stateless Arab convicted of driving the bomber to the mosque and bringing the explosives belt he used from near the Saudi border.
During the trial, Saud confessed to dropping off the bomber but said he had been assured that the plan was to blow up the mosque without harming any worshippers.
The second man in the dock sentenced to death was Fahad Farraj Muhareb, described by the court as the "wali" or leader of the local ISIS branch.
The other five -- who remain at large -- include two Saudi brothers, Mohammad and Majed al-Zahrani, who were convicted of smuggling the explosives used in the attack from Saudi Arabia in an icebox.
The two men were arrested by Saudi authorities days after the bombing.
The other three include two stateless Arabs who were convicted of fighting with ISIS, as well as one defendant whose identity has not been established.
Rights group Amnesty International criticised the sentences.
"These death sentences are a misguided response to what was an utterly heinous and callous criminal act," said James Lynch, Amnesty's acting Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
"The death penalty is not the way to tackle terror, and these sentences do nothing to build a culture of rule of law and tolerance which Kuwait needs now more than ever. They must be overturned," he said.
The court sentenced eight people, including five women, to jail terms ranging from two to 15 years for providing weapons training, abetting the attack, or knowing about it and failing to inform authorities.
It acquitted 14 defendants, including two women. Eleven of them had been released during the trial.
Among those acquitted was Jarrah Nimer, owner of the car used to drop off the bomber.
There was tight security for the hearing, with armoured vehicles outside the Kuwait City court complex and helicopters patrolling overhead.
Twenty-four defendants were in court to hear the verdicts. Men were put in a metal cage, while women were allowed to sit, watched over by a large number of police.
Including those still at large, the defendants comprised seven Kuwaitis, five Saudis, three Pakistanis and 13 stateless Arabs, plus the unidentified fugitive.
An ISIS-affiliated group calling itself Najd Province claimed the Kuwait City bombing as well as suicide attacks at two Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia in May.
Najd is the central region of Saudi Arabia.
The Sunni extremists of ISIS consider Shiites to be heretics and have repeatedly attacked Shiite targets in the region.
Kuwaiti authorities announced in July that they had arrested four members of a suspected ISIS cell, while a fifth member had died during a "terrorist" operation in neighbouring Iraq.