Ex-Lebanese minister sentenced over explosives' transport

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BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese military court on Wednesday convicted a former minister on charges of plotting a wave of bombings at the behest of neighboring Syria and sentenced him to four-and-a-half years in prison.

According to Lebanon's state-run news agency, NNA, the court also stripped former Information Minister Michel Samaha of his civil rights in its verdict, meaning that after serving his sentence he cannot take up any government jobs or run in elections.

The verdict came after Samaha was reported to have confessed during his trial last month that he had transported explosives into Lebanon in collaboration with Syrian intelligence.

Lebanon, a country plagued by decades of strife, has been on edge since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad broke out in March 2011. The civil war has at times spilled over the border, engulfing Lebanon in sectarian clashes.

The 2012 arrest of Samaha, a close ally of Assad, and his indictment a year later dealt an embarrassing blow to Syria, which has long acted with impunity in Lebanon.

Wednesday's verdict angered Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi who walked out of a Cabinet meeting describing the sentence as "ridiculous" in its leniency.

"This is not a court. We will take legal measures," said Rifi.

Along with Samaha, the head of Syria's powerful National Security Council, Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, and a Syrian aide were also indicted in the case. Their case was separated from Samaha's because they could not be brought to the court.

Samaha's lawyer, Sakhr al-Hashem, said last month that his client denied any role in selecting targets for the planned attacks, which were said to target a Sunni Muslim lawmaker and Muslim holiday banquets. The plots were ultimately foiled by Lebanese authorities.

Lebanon's intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassan, who helped uncover the bombing plot, was assassinated in a car bomb in Beirut only months after Samaha's indictment.

Many Lebanese viewed his assassination as a relief to Damascus and a reminder that Lebanon cannot be insulated from Syria.

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