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Iraq terror suspects face long Swedish sentences

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12:52 CEST+02:00
(AFP) - The trial of two Iraqis charged with helping to plot attacks in their home country wrapped up in Stockholm on Thursday with the prosecutor calling for up to 10 years behind bars for the two men.

Ali Berzengi, 29, and Ferman Abdulla, 25, are facing charges that they sent about 148,000 dollars to the militant groups Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunna and to Iraq's most wanted man Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Prosecutor Agneta Hilding Qvarnström, who on Thursday called for both men to receive prison sentences of between eight and 10 years, has charged that the money was, among other things, used for a suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil on February 1, 2004, that left more than 100 people dead.

"We're talking about a very serious crime that they, in their way and through money transfers, are part of. What is happening in Iraq, where many, many people are blown to bits and killed, is extremely serious," she said in an interview on public radio after the trial concluded.

Abdulla's attorney, Ola Salomonsson, however insisted that the requested prison sentences were too harsh.

"If my client is found guilty, this would be a bit harsh," he told AFP, adding that his client was under a lot of pressure because a fatwa, or a legal Islamic ruling that can include death sentences, has been issued against him.

"This has of course influenced him during the trial. He is very frightened," Salomonsson said, adding that his client had pleaded not guilty to the charges, although he admitted to having sent money to organizations in Iraq.

"My client has said that he has received money that he sent on, but the money was not for bombings ... It was supposed to go to people who needed help, for social causes," the lawyer told AFP before the trial got underway at the beginning of the month.

According to his lawyer, Abdulla had been working within the hawala system, an ancient underground banking system used mainly in South Asia and the Middle East to transfer money internationally while circumventing legal and financial

barriers.

"He may have some problems because of (a Swedish) finance law. It's illegal to send money out of the country to organizations like that... but this is far from as serious as the charges he is facing," Salomonsson said on Thursday.

The two defendants were arrested with two other men in Sweden last April suspected of direct participation in attacks in Iraq. Due to lack of evidence however prosecutors were forced to drop the charges against the other two men at the end of last summer and to reduce the charges against the two defendants.

A verdict in the case is expected to be published on May 12.

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