OSLO, Norway (AP) — Two men were found guilty Monday of involvement in an al-Qaida plot to attack a Danish newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, the first convictions under Norway's anti-terror laws.
A third defendant was acquitted of terror charges but convicted of helping the others acquire explosives.
Investigators say the plot was linked to the same al-Qaida planners behind thwarted attacks against the New York subway system and a shopping mall in Manchester, England, in 2009.
The Oslo district court sentenced alleged ringleader Mikael Davud, to seven years in prison and co-defendant Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak to three and a half years.
Judge Oddmund Svarteberg said the court found that Davud, a Chinese Muslim, "planned the attack together with al-Qaida." Bujak was deeply involved in the preparations, but it couldn't be proved that he was aware of Davud's contacts with al-Qaida, the judge said.
The third defendant, David Jakobsen, who assisted police in the investigation, was convicted on an explosives charge and sentenced to four months in prison — time he's already served in pretrial detention.
Defense lawyers for the three told the court they would study the verdict before deciding whether to appeal.
Davud smiled and waved to photographers as he left the court. His defense lawyer, Carl Konow Rieber-Mohn, told The Associated Press later Monday that he would advise his client to appeal.
The case was Norway's most high-profile terror investigation until last July, when a right-wing extremist killed 77 people in a bomb and shooting massacre.
The three men, who were arrested in July 2010, made some admissions but pleaded innocent to terror conspiracy charges and rejected any links to al-Qaida.
During the trial Davud denied he was taking orders from al-Qaida, saying he was planning a solo raid against the Chinese Embassy in Oslo. He said he wanted revenge for Beijing's oppression of Uighurs, a Muslim minority in western China.
Davud, who moved to Norway in 1999 and later became a Norwegian citizen, also said his co-defendants helped him acquire bomb-making ingredients but didn't know he was planning an attack.
Prosecutors said the Norwegian cell first wanted to attack Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, whose 12 cartoons of Muhammad sparked furious protests in Muslim countries in 2006, and then changed plans to seek to murder one of the cartoonists instead.
Bujak, an Iraqi Kurd, said the paper and the cartoonist were indeed the targets, but described the plans as "just talk."
Prosecutors had to prove the defendants worked together in a conspiracy, because a single individual plotting an attack is not covered under Norway's anti-terror laws.
"There is no doubt that Davud took the initiative to prepare the terror act and that he was the ring leader," the judge said as he delivered the verdict.
He said Davud planned to carry out the attack himself by placing a bomb outside Jyllands-Posten's offices in Aarhus, in western Denmark.
The men had been under surveillance for more than a year when authorities moved to arrest them. Norwegian investigators, who worked with their U.S. counterparts, said the defendants were building a bomb in a basement laboratory in Oslo.
Jakobsen, an Uzbek national who changed his name after moving to Norway, provided some of the chemicals for the bomb, but claims he did not know they were meant for explosives. Jakobsen contacted police and served as an informant, but still faced charges for his involvement before that.
An Associated Press investigation in 2010 showed that authorities learned early on about the alleged cell by intercepting emails from an al-Qaida operative in Pakistan and — thanks to those early warnings — were able to secretly replace a key bomb-making ingredient with a harmless liquid when Jakobsen ordered it at an Oslo pharmacy.
The judge said it had been proven that Davud had contacts with al-Qaida in Pakistan, and that his notebook contained references to Saleh al-Somali, al-Qaida's chief of external operations, who officials believe helped organize the New York, Manchester and Norway plots. He was killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan in 2009.
During the trial, prosecutors presented testimony obtained in the U.S. in April from three American al-Qaida recruits turned government witnesses.