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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The trial is expected to last for several months"
 real 28k

Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Suspected militants on trial in Jordan
Relatives in Amman
Relatives of the accused arrive at court
The trial has opened at a military court in Jordan of 28 men charged with planning terrorist attacks to destabilise the kingdom.

The suspects are also said to have links with the Islamist Saudi dissident, Osama bin Laden - the subject of an international arrest warrant for allegedly running a global terrorist network.

Prison van in Amman
Only 13 of the defendants are in detention at present
The Jordanian authorities broke up the cell in December saying it meant to strike against US and Israeli tourists during the millennium celebrations. Thirteen of the defendants are still at large.

The trial was adjourned after the prosecution read out the charges, which included manufacturing explosives.

'Faithful Muslims'

The defendants pleaded not guilty.

One of them told the court they were not terrorists but faithful Muslims who wanted Jordan to apply strict Islamic law and stop following American ideas.

The 15 defendants in court include 13 Jordanians of Palestinian extraction, one Iraqi and an Algerian.

Mother of Samer Jebara
The mother of Samer Jebara, one of the accused, weeps outside the court

The remaining 13 being tried in absentia include Jordanians, Palestinians and a Yemeni.

The trial is expected to last for several months and, if found guilty, the defendants face the death penalty.

The indictment said the group was formed in 1995 and that its members received arms training in Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon.

Holy sites

It said the suspects had been smuggling weapons into Jordan from surrounding countries for the past four years.

According to security sources in Jordan, the cell had targeted a hotel in Amman and archaeological sites at Mount Nebo and in the Jordan Valley, but no attacks were actually carried out.

Those being tried in absentia include Omar abu Omar, who has political asylum in the UK. He denies any connection to the arrested men.

Another is Zein al-Abiddeen Hassan, a Palestinian with an Egyptian travel document. Reports say he was living in Pakistan until he fled to Afghanistan last month.

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See also:

17 Feb 00 | Middle East
Jordanian suspects linked to bin Laden
16 Dec 99 | Middle East
Jordan 'militants' linked to UK
21 Dec 99 | South Asia
Osama bin Laden 'cut off'
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