A court in Senegal court on Monday sentenced in absentia Muslim leader Sheikh Bethio Thioune to 10 years of hard labour for abetting the murder of two followers.
The high criminal court in Mbour found the influential head of a branch of the Mouride Brotherhood guilty of failing to denounce a crime and being an accomplice to murder seven years ago.
His deputy, Sheikh Faye, was convicted of the same charges and received the same sentence from the court in the coastal town about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Dakar.
Ten other defendants, more or less directly involved in the grisly killings, were given 15 years of hard labour, while two were given eight years.
Prosecutor Youssou Diallo last week asked the court to give hard labour for life to Sheikh Bethio over the killings on April 22, 2012.
The charges ranged from murder entailing barbaric acts, criminal association, receiving and burying corpses without authorisation, possessing weapons illegally and failing to report a crime.
The case bas been widely followed in the West African country, where 90 percent of the population are Muslims and the Mouride Brotherhood is a Sufi order of Islam wielding considerable political sway.
Thioune was arrested on April 23, 2012, a day after the deaths of two followers whose savagely beaten bodies were found 800 metres (yards) from his house in the village of Keur Samba Laobe, western Senegal.
When the trial began exactly five years after the arrest, one of the sheikh’s defence attorneys, El Hadji Mamadou Ndiaye, said he had barred one of the victims from entering his home.
The man, according to this account, had been accused of zealously worshipping Thioune and even comparing him to God — an act of sacrilege.
He refused to obey the ban on entering the residence, which prompted Thioune’s outraged supporters to kill him and one of his friends, the lawyer said.
Thioune was freed on bail in February 2013 and has been in France for medical treatment during the trial.
The court announced that he would not be summoned “because of his age”, but seized his assets and awarded 100 million CFA francs (about 152,500 euros / $171,000) to the heirs of each murdered man.