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Japan Photojournalist Sentenced in Jordan

June 1, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ Jordan’s military court sentenced a Japanese photographer Sunday to 1 1/2 years in jail for unintentionally causing the death of a Jordanian security official in a cluster bomb blast at Amman airport last month.

The court also found Hiroki Gomi of Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun newspaper guilty of accidental damage to property at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport on May 1.

On May 1, an Iraqi battlefield souvenir that Gomi, 36, had carried in his luggage exploded during a manual search at the airport, killing a Jordanian security guard and wounding three others.

The court acquitted Gomi’s Jordanian translator, Abdul-Salam Hilweh, 32.

The presiding judge, Col. Fawaz al-Buqour, said there was no evidence to incriminate Hilweh, to whom Gomi had given a similar battlefield souvenir when they were covering the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Hilweh’s cluster bomb was detonated by Jordanian bomb squads three days after the airport explosion.

The sentence can be appealed.

Gomi and Hilweh, wearing light blue prison uniform, stood silently as the verdict was read in the small courtroom crowded by Japanese diplomats and media representatives.

Gomi pleaded innocent to charges that included negligence resulting in the death of the security guard, Ali al-Sarhan, and illegal possession of an explosive device.

Gomi told the court he was unaware that the bomb was live.

Al-Buqour, presiding over a three-man tribunal, said he ``found no evidence that Mr. Gomi had criminal intentions when he carried the cluster bomb.″ He acquitted Gomi of illegal possession of explosives.

Gomi was on his way back to Japan when the cluster bomb exploded in al-Sarhan’s hands after an X-ray machine detected a metal object in his luggage. Al-Sarhan demanded a manual search as Gomi answered a mobile phone yards away.

A Mainichi spokesman said Sunday evening in Tokyo that he could not comment immediately because he had not yet read the verdict. The spokesman, who did not give his name, said the newspaper would probably issue a statement later.

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