The Iraqi TV journalist who threw his shoes at former US president George W Bush, making himself a hero across the Arab world, was yesterday sentenced to three years in jail by a Baghdad court after being found guilty of assault. (See: Bush discovers WMD in Baghdad - no consolation prize, though)
The sentence sparked outrage by supporters of the journalist, Muntazer al-Zaidi, who had pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting a foreign leader. His lawyers say they will appeal the verdict.
Zaidi told the court Thursday that his action was a natural response and that he did what any Iraqi would have done. In a court appearance last month, the journalist said the president's talk of "victory," combined with what Zaidi called his ''icy'' smile, proved too much after years of war and destruction following the US-led invasion.
Yesterday, Zeidi testified that he was overwhelmed when Bush started speaking at the press conference. ''I saw only Bush and it was like something black in my eyes,'' he said from the dock, an Iraqi flag draped across his shoulders.
''So I took the first shoe and threw it but it did not hit him. Then spontaneously I took the second shoe but it did not hit him either. I was not trying to kill the commander of the occupation forces of Iraq,'' he said.
Supporters in Baghdad said the verdict was politically motivated. Zaidi has been in Iraqi custody since he hurled the shoes at Bush during a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in December.
A judge had postponed the trial in February to determine if Bush was on an official visit during the December incident. Zaidi's lawyers had argued that Bush's visit to Iraq was unannounced.
''This sentence is harsh and is not in harmony with the law, and eventually the defence team will contest this in the appeals court,'' Dhiaa al-Saadi, the head of Zeidi's 25-strong defence team, told reporters.
Saadi had previously told the court that the gesture did not amount to assault because the missile was a shoe, not a mortar or bomb, and his client's intention was merely to insult the president ''for the pain Iraqis have suffered''.
Zeidi's family says he has been beaten and tortured while in custody. His sister Ruqaiya burst into tears, shouting ''Down with Maliki, the agent of the Americans,'' when the sentence was read out.
His brothers said they wanted to bring torture charges against Bush, Maliki and his bodyguards at a human rights court in either Belgium or Spain. A Syrian lawyer said she was preparing to file a complaint.
Bush's final trip to Iraq was an attempt to burnish his legacy by celebrating the success of a military surge that has curbed sectarian violence and by signing a security agreement, which paves the way for the withdrawal of over 100,000 US troops from Iraq. Instead, the visit was overshadowed by Zeidi's gesture.
Zaidi became an instant hero to many throughout the Muslim world, thousands of whom took to the streets holding aloft shoes in demonstrations of support.
His action also spawned copycat shoe-throwings, including last month's incident involving Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (See: Wen follows Bush; escapes shoe missile at Cambridge)