July 19, 2018 / 2:35 PM / a year ago

REFILE--Senegal convicts 13 for attempt to establish jihadist cell

(Refiles to remove extraneous ‘hold’ from headline)

DAKAR, July 19 (Reuters) - Senegal sentenced 13 people to prison on Thursday for their attempt to establish a homegrown jihadist cell modelled on Boko Haram.

About 30 Senegalese were put on trial in April for their suspected involvement in the cell after some spent time in Nigeria with Boko Haram, the insurgency which has been fighting for nine years to establish an Islamic caliphate based in northern Nigeria.

Senegal’s relatively stable democracy and tolerant form of Islam has helped it so far escape the kind of jihadist attacks that have hit Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso in recent years, despite sharing a border with Mali, where groups with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda have been active for years.

The sentences ranged upwards from 5 years, with the man considered the ring leader in the plot, named Matar Diokhane, receiving the longest at 20 years.

The investigation started in 2015, after Diokhane paid tribute to Senegalese jihadists in a Facebook post that alerted Senegal’s intelligence services.

Around 200 people came to Senegal’s main courthouse on Thursday to hear the verdict. Members of the audiences cheered and shouted “God is greatest” when suspects were acquitted, said a Reuters witness.

“The court was very heavy-handed in sentencing our client, and we are going to appeal,” Diokane’s lawyer Alassane Cisse told Reuters. (Reporting by Diadie Ba; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Edward McAllister and Hugh Lawson)

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