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Islamist leader jailed for inciting deadly attack on US Embassy in Tunisia

EPA, file

Protesters flee after security forces fired tear gas towards them outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia, on Sept. 14.

Updated at 8:19 a.m. ET: TUNIS, Tunisia - A leader of radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia was sentenced to one year in prison on Wednesday for inciting an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis last month in which four people were killed.

The conviction of Abu Ayub was the first in connection with the attack - launched to protest against an anti-Islamic film made in California. The United States has been urging authorities to jail those responsible.

"The judge decided to jail him on charges of inciting violence ... This decision is unfair ... we will go to appeal," said Rafik Ghak, a lawyer for Abu Ayub.

The authorities arrested 144 people, including two prominent leaders of Ansar al-Sharia after the embassy attack. Saif-Allah Benahssine, the leader of the group, has urged the government to release them.

Benahssine on Tuesday accused the country's government of being a puppet of the United States and un-Islamic.


Protests ignited by a controversial film that ridicules Islam's Prophet Muhammad spread throughout Muslim world.

The United States this month requested Tunisia bring the embassy attackers to trial, pledging to continue its support for the democratic transition in Tunisia.

Tunisia expects Washington to guarantee around a fifth of its $2.2-2.5 billion borrowing needs next year to help its economy recover from last year's revolution, the country's minister of international cooperation, Riadh Betaib, told Reuters last month.

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Meanwhile, the Tunisian government confirmed Wednesday that it has arrested a 28-year-old Tunisian reportedly linked to the U.S. Consulate attack in Libya.

A man is being held by Tunisian authorities as a "person of interest" in the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Tarrouch Khaled said that Ali Harzi was in custody in Tunis. Khaled told the The Associated Press "his case is in the hands of justice." He did not elaborate.

However, Harzi's lawyer told NBC News that his client was innocent. Oulad Ali Anwar said Harzi was working in Benghazi as a house painter at the time of the attack and said he denied both attending the demonstration at the U.S. Consulate and belonging to any extremist group.

Rights group blasts 'repressive' crackdown in Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring

In Washington, the State Department had no comment. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. has been looking into the arrests of two Tunisian men being detained in Turkey reportedly in connection with attacks on a consulate in Libya last month.

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Sept. 11.

State Department emails obtained by NBC News raise more questions about what was known by the White House regarding the Benghazi attack. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

NBC News' Charlene Gubash, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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