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Saudi court sentences terrorists linked to death of NJ contractor

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced 18 more people on terrorism charges, including 14 men reportedly linked to the 2004 kidnapping and beheading of Paul Marshall Johnson, a 49-year-old American from New Jersey.

Johnson, who had worked in the kingdom for more than a decade, was working on Apache attack helicopter systems for Lockheed Martin when he was abducted and killed.

Read the 2004 news report of Marshall's killing

The court was wrapping up a week of verdicts on nearly every person in an alleged 50-member cell charged with launching attacks aimed at toppling the monarchy around a decade ago. The 14 were also charged with planning attacks on the U.S. and British embassies. One of the men was sentenced to death.

In recent months Saudi authorities have tightened laws to ban fighting in foreign conflicts, fearing a repeat of the 2003-2006 violence, when Saudis and others who had been radicalized in battlefields abroad turned their weapons on the kingdom in a series of deadly attacks.

Paul Johnson III (Family photo via AP)

The 18 were found guilty of financing terrorism, collecting information about compounds where foreigners reside, providing hideouts for fugitives and possessing unlicensed weapons, the official Saudi Press Agency reported late Wednesday.

The men, whose nationalities were not disclosed, were given sentences ranging from 10 months to 25 years behind bars.

Earlier this week, the same court in the capital Riyadh sentenced 31 other people for alleged involvement in the cell and their role in deadly attacks that took place over the course of several years starting in 2003.

The second verdict was issued Tuesday against 17 men, two of whom were sentenced to death, on various charges including murder, firing at security forces and plotting to assassinate top officials. They were also found guilty of assaults on residential compounds where foreigners live in Riyadh and the Eastern Province

Some defendants were also accused of plotting to assassinate senior government officials and smuggling heavy weapons into the kingdom from Iraq. Others were charged with fighting in conflicts abroad, firing at Saudi security officers and disobeying the king.

It was not clear if all 50 suspected cell members are in custody, or whether some were being tried in absentia. A senior government official contacted by The Associated Press this week declined to give further details.

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