Hesamoddin Hatami and Zahra Kolabian, two Iranian citizens arrested in mid-September for attempting to leave Kenya with forged Israeli documents, were sentenced today. A Kenyan court ordered them to serve two years in jail or pay a substantial fine after they pled guilty to being in the possession of and using fake Israeli passports. Nairobi Resident Magistrate Hannah Kaguru also ordered that the two defendants be handed over to Kenya's department of refugees once their sentences are complete.
The pair were initially caught on September 18 after attempting to board a Brussels Airlines flight from Nairobi to Brussels, authorities said, with the intention to travel from there to Tel Aviv. Kenyan anti-terrorism police arrested them on the suspicion of plotting an attack.
There has been some debate about whether the two are terrorists or illegal immigrants, which at one point Kenyan police believed them to be. Thus, it is not immediately clear if this verdict has put official's concerns of a possible attack to rest. Whether the pair will avoid jail by paying the 2 million shilling fine ($22,422) also remains unclear at this time.
Kenyan security forces have been high on alert for terror attacks following several gun and grenade attacks, as well as the anniversary of last year's attack by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group Al-Shabaab on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall that left at least 67 dead.
Iranians are seen as particularly suspicious in Kenya, which is a close ally of Israel, a country that Iran has repeatedly threatened to destroy. In particular, two Iranian men were convicted by a Kenyan court last May for planning bombings in Nairobi and other cities. Their appeal is expected to be decided on October 14.
Hesamoddin Hatami and Zahra Kolabian have 14 days to appeal their sentence.