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Jeddah U.S. consulate attacker sentenced to death, others jailed

RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi court has sentenced one man to death and another 19 to jail terms ranging from 18 months to 25 years for taking part in storming the U.S. consulate in Jeddah in 2004, killing nine, one of a series of al Qaeda attacks last decade.

Another 35 defendants in the case are due to be sentenced on Monday and Tuesday, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported from the court late on Sunday.

In the December 6 attack, five militants, including the man sentenced to death on Sunday, stormed the U.S. consulate with bombs and guns, killing four Saudi security personnel outside the building and five local staff inside. Three of the attackers were killed in the assault and two were captured.

SPA said that among other charges, "suspect number six", as he was identified in the court statement, was convicted of participating in killing five people inside the U.S. Consulate, including four Muslims, and in participating in planning another attack against foreigners in Tabuk in northern Saudi Arabia.

The authorities will publicly display the body of the man after he is executed, the most severe form of punishment allowed in Saudi Arabia's Islamic sharia system.

The other men sentenced on Sunday, and those awaiting verdicts and sentencing on Monday and Tuesday, are accused of belonging to the same militant cell and supporting the Jeddah attack and another at the Rabigh petrol refinery the same year.

The Jeddah attack followed deadly bombings and shootings directed against expatriate compounds, Westerners working in the kingdom and other targets that were part of an al Qaeda campaign aimed at ousting the ruling Al Saud family.

The assaults convinced the Saudi authorities to take seriously the threat posed by al Qaeda, which some leading members of the ruling family had previously disregarded, U.S. embassy cables released by WikiLeaks say.

Riyadh crushed the al Qaeda campaign in 2006, detaining more than 11,000 people in its security prisons, it has said.

Families of some of those imprisoned have staged protests accusing the government of jailing them without fair trial, of holding prisoners without charge, of failing to release them after their terms were served, and of torture.

International human rights groups have also accused the authorities of locking up peaceful activists who demanded political change under the pretext of their battle against al Qaeda. Riyadh has repeatedly denied both sets of charges.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall, editing by Sami Aboudi)

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