Cult leader Mohamed Amin did not speak in his defense during the trial.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A court in Malaysia has sentenced to death three ringleaders of a Muslim cult found guilty of leading an armed rebellion aimed at creating an Islamic state.
Sixteen other members of the Al-Ma'unah movement were given life sentences without the chance of parole.
The group was involved in an armed standoff with security forces in the jungles of northern Malaysia in the middle of last year after seizing a cache of arms from two army camps.
During the siege, two hostages -- a policeman and a soldier -- were killed, as was one of the cult members.
The incident catalyzed concerns over the dangers of Islamic extremism in Malaysia -- a predominantly Muslim country but which has large religious minorities.
Passing sentence, High Court Judge Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said that the consequences for the country would have been unimaginable if the members of the cult had succeeded in overthrowing the government.
"I find that all the accused either directly or indirectly were involved in the Al-Ma'unah objective, to topple the government through violent means in the name of jihad," or holy war, Zulkefli said.
"I cannot imagine the consequences for the people in this multi-racial country had the Al-Ma'unah been successful in carrying out this objective."
Throughout the 15-month trial the cult's leader, Mohamed Amin Mohamed Razali a former soldier did not speak in his defense.
However, passing sentence the judge said Amin had been proved "the mastermind in the move to topple the government by use of force".
Although the group is believed to have been forcibly disbanded, the U.S. government, has barred all al-Ma'unah members from traveling there amid increasing concerns about the threat from Islamic terrorism.
Originally 29 cult members were put on trial, but 10 pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received 10-year prison terms.
Two had their sentences reduced to seven years on appeal.
The Federal Court must now decide whether to uphold the death penalty and life sentences, as all convictions related to top security cases are automatically referred to the country's highest court.
Death sentences in Malaysia are usually carried out by hanging.