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26 Mar 2013 17:08
Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah. (AFP)
"These are serious charges…. Effectively, the accused [Okah] is therefore sentenced to 24 years' imprisonment," Judge Neels Claassen said, handing down sentence.
"The accused has not accepted any responsibility for the crimes committed, nor has he shown remorse."
The Nigerian was also found unfit to operate weapons.
Claassen added it would be wrong for the court to turn a blind eye to the fact that the "struggle in Nigeria was for a good cause", stating the importance to balance Okah's political intentions with the violent nature of the crimes.
He found three "compelling circumstances" that would justify a lesser sentence.
"First and most importantly are that the offences were motivated by a political desire to improve the community in the Niger Delta," Claassen said.
He added the fact that Okah did not have a criminal record, and the fact that he is a husband and father of four children who would "suffer" also counted in mitigation.
"The remaining factor is the fact that to all intents and purposes the accused was regarded by those in Nigeria as a strong leader."
Claassen said he had many months to consider what the appropriate sentence would be and said it was not an "easy matter to pass an appropriate sentence" on.
"To impose a life sentence would be totally disappropriate [inappropriate] to the seriousness of the crimes," he said.
Claassen said with treaties signed by the United Nations it was important to impose a sentence that would prohibit South Africa being seen as a safe haven for terrorists.
"Therefore the duty of this court in imposing the proper sentence is to take into account the interest of the community worldwide in making South Africa unpalatable to any international terrorism," he added.
On January 21, Okah was found guilty on 13 counts of terrorism, including engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activities, and delivering, placing, and detonating an explosive device.
The charges related to two car bombs detonated in Abuja, Nigeria, on October 1 2010, the anniversary of the country's independence.
The second bombing took place in Warri on March 15 2010 at a post amnesty dialogue meeting. One person was killed and 11 seriously injured.
In both bombings, two car bombs went off minutes apart in both places. The cars were parked in close proximity to each other.
Claassen sentenced Okah to 12 years imprisonment for each of the bombings and 10 years for the threats made to the South African government after his arrest in October 2010. The 10 years would run concurrently with the 24 years.
Caught the kisses
As Okah was set to leave, he turned around and blew kisses to his visibly emotional wife Azuka. She smiled as she jokingly caught the kisses, before she blew him kisses as police officers escorted him back to the holding cells. Nineteen police officers were present in court during the proceedings on Tuesday.
In January, during judgment Claassen said the State had proved Okah's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and his failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested. Okah denied any involvement, claiming the charges against him were politically motivated.
The State and Okah's defence indicated they would appeal the sentence.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindi Louw declined to comment on whether the State would appeal for a heavier sentence to be imposed. – Sapa
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