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Lebanon sentences Ahmed al-Assir to death

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 28/09/2017
Ahmed al-Assir was arrested in 2015 after two years in hiding [File: Ali Hashisho/Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Ahmed al-Assir was arrested in 2015 after two years in hiding [File: Ali Hashisho/Reuters]

A Sunni Muslim cleric has been sentenced to death in Lebanon for inciting attacks on the army, according to officials.

Ahmed al-Assir, who was arrested in 2015, was tried in a military tribunal along with 38 others accused of killing Lebanese soldiers in the southern city of Sidon in 2013.

The court on Thursday also sentenced to death two other defendants and five people who remain at large, including the cleric's brother.

Former singer Fadel Shaker, who was tried in absentia, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while the other 30 defendants were handed life sentences.

Battle of Sidon

The charges were in connection with clashes between Assir's supporters and the army that broke out in Sidon on June 24, 2013.

Eighteen Lebanese soldiers died, along with 40 of Assir's supporters and two civilians.

Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Lebanon's capital, Beirut, said the two-day battle of Sidon between the Lebanese army and Assir's supporters was "one of the earliest and bloodiest spillovers into Lebanon" from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Tyab said Assir was "relatively unknown" before the Syrian conflict started in 2011, but "rose to prominence quickly for his fiery speeches on TV criticising Hezbollah for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and praising the opposition", including al-Qaeda linked fighters.

READ MORE: Who is Lebanon's Ahmed al-Assir?

In 2014, the judiciary issued a warrant for his arrest for "forming an armed group with the objective of committing acts of terrorism and killing or attempting to kill Lebanese soldiers".

After two years on the run, the cleric was arrested in August 2015 at Beirut International Airport as he attempted to escape with a fake passport and altered appearance.

Capital punishment is legal in Lebanon, but there has been an effective moratorium in place for more than 10 years, without any executions carried out despite judgements to that effect.

"Under Lebanese law, any execution order must be approved by the president," Tyab said, adding that Assir's fate was unclear.

"Capital punishment hasn’t been used here since 2004, and although Ahmed al-Assir has very little obvious support across Lebanon, President Michel Aoun likely doesn't have the sort of political backing he needs in order to carry out such a punishment," he said.

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