KUWAIT: The criminal court yesterday sentenced seven men, five of them in absentia, to death over the suicide bombing at the Imam Al-Sadeq Shiite mosque that killed 26 people and wounded 227 others, and passed various jail terms against eight others. Reading the court verdicts in front of the suspects and a packed courtroom, Judge Mohammad Al-Duaij also acquitted 14 suspects. The public prosecution had pressed charges against 29 people, including seven women. Five of the men remain at large.

The two men who were sentenced to death while in court were Abdulrahman Sabah Eidan Saud, the bedoon driver who dropped off the Saudi bomber to the mosque in Kuwait City and who also brought the explosives used in the bombing from near the Saudi borders, and Fahd Farraj Nassar Muhareb, who is described as the “wali” or leader of the Islamic State group in Kuwait.

The man has been serving a jail sentence in another case. The five others who received the maximum punishment in absentia include the two Saudi brothers Mohammad and Majed Al-Zahrani, who transported the explosives belt from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait a day before the bombing. The two carried the explosives through the borders in an icebox in an old car and abandoned the car in Kuwait. The two are being held in Saudi Arabia after they were arrested a few days after the attack.

Others sentenced to death include two bedoon men who are believed to be fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and a suspect whose identity has not been established. Eight people, including five women, were sentenced to jail terms ranging between two and 15 years for their roles in the bombing or for knowing about the attack and failing to inform authorities.

The remaining 14 people including two women were acquitted. Among those acquitted was Jarrah Nimer, owner of the car used to drop off the bomber. The judge delivered the verdicts while the male defendants were in a metal cage in court and female defendants seated in the courtroom.

There were no reactions to the verdicts from the defendants. The rulings are not final and must be challenged in the appeals court because they include death sentences, as per Kuwaiti law. The bombing, the worst single terror attack in Kuwait’s history, united the Kuwaiti people, who called for stern action against extremists. Judge Duaij said before the verdict that the court would like to draw the attention to the dangers of extremist ideology which uses terrorism to carry out its plots.

Rights group Amnesty International criticised the sentences. “These death sentences are a misguided response to what was an utterly heinous and callous criminal act,” said James Lynch, Amnesty’s acting Middle East and North Africa deputy director. “The death penalty is not the way to tackle terror, and these sentences do nothing to build a culture of rule of law and tolerance which Kuwait needs now more than ever. They must be overturned,” he said. Including those still at large, the defendants comprised seven Kuwaitis, five Saudis, three Pakistanis and 13 bedoons, plus the unidentified fugitive. An IS-affiliated group calling itself Najd Province claimed the Kuwait City bombing as well as suicide attacks at two Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia in May. Najd is the central region of Saudi Arabia. The Sunni extremists of IS consider Shiites to be heretics and have repeatedly attacked Shiite targets in the region.

By B Izzak