Another six have been charged in absentia with terrorism in Ethiopia, said defence lawyer Temam Ababulgu, who told AFP that prosecutors “say they have links, a connection with Al-Qaeda and Al-Shebab”.
Government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal said the 11 are suspected of plotting a series of attacks “to overthrow the lawful government”.
“They have tried to plant explosives in public places targeting civilians. A number of handguns and weapons have been seized,” he said.
Weapons training manuals were also seized when the suspects were arrested in December in Bale in southeastern Ethiopia, he said.
Some of the suspects had also been charged with money laundering “for the purpose of carrying out their terrorist enterprise”.
One witness told the court members of the group had spoken of preparing for holy war.
“I heard one say, you ‘have to be prepared for jihad’,” said the witness, who could not be named under court orders.
Shimeles said a Kenyan suspect in the group, Hassen Jarso, had told the court Thursday he had links with Al-Qaeda.
“He has told the court he has been assigned by an organization that is affiliated with Al-Shebab and Al-Qaeda to carry out terrorist activities here,” Shimeles said.
The case marked the first time charges have been laid under a new anti-terrorism law linking suspects with Al-Qaeda or Shebab, said Shimeles.
In April Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi condemned religious extremism before parliament and said a number of radical Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda had been captured.
Shebab militants have carried out a series of attacks in neighbouring Kenya in recent months. In November, Ethiopia sent tanks and troops into Somali to help the government fight Shebab rebels.
Rights groups have criticized Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism legislation for being vague and far-reaching. Close to 200 people were arrested under the law in 2011, including two Swedish journalists who were sentenced to 11 years in prison and prominent journalist Eskinder Nega who is awaiting conviction.