ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - An Ethiopian court on Tuesday convicted 10 men of plotting attacks with the help of Islamist militants from neighbouring Somalia and sentenced them to between three and 20 years in jail.
Addis Ababa, a Western ally in a region threatened by radical Islam, has deployed troops in Somalia twice in the past seven years.
The latest was a campaign to fight the al Qaeda-allied al Shabaab group alongside Kenyan troops and an African Union mission.
Though the country has avoided the al Shabaab-claimed bombings which have rocked neighbouring Kenya in the past year, Ethiopia says the rebels have plotted but failed in several attempts in its capital and elsewhere.
Among the suspects sentenced on Tuesday was Hassan Jarso, a Kenyan national accused of masterminding a plot to attack political and economic targets.
The group also sought to set up camps, recruit members and wage jihad in the country of more than 80 million, which has a large Muslim minority, Justice Ministry spokesman Desalegn Teressa said.
Six members of the group were convicted in absentia. All but Jarso are Ethiopian nationals.
Prosecutors told Reuters that they will seek life imprisonment for the Kenyan, who they say has admitted to being a member of al Shabaab.
Last September, al Shabaab withdrew from the southern port of Kismayu, their last major urban stronghold, in a retreat that signalled their demise as a quasi-conventional military force.
Yet the rebels vowed to step up a campaign of suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks.
Tuesday’s verdict follows the arrest two weeks ago of 15 suspects allegedly trained by Somali insurgents in Somalia and Kenya.
Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) said they were caught following a 20-day sting operation while they plotted to set up cells in the eastern town of Harar and in Kemise in the northeast.
Reporting by Aaron Maasho; editing by Jason Neely