SANA'A // Yemen's state security court yesterday sentenced six al Qa'eda militants to death for a wave of terrorist operations against government and western targets over the past two years. Ten other defendants, including four Syrians and a Saudi, were sentenced to between eight and 15 years in jail on the same charges.
The 16-member group, known as the Tarim cell, carried out 13 armed attacks since 2007 on foreign targets, government establishments and oil installations, including an attack in January 2008 that killed two female Belgian tourists and three Yemeni drivers and wounded another tourist. The group was also charged with carrying out a mortar attack in March 2008 that targeted the US Embassy in Sana'a but missed it and hit a nearby school for girls, wounding four students and three police officers. Ali Askar, the prosecutor, said during the trial the group also launched a rocket strike three months ago on a compound housing US and western oil workers, with no casualties.
The defendants had also fired two mortar shells at the Italian Embassy on April 30 2008. There were no casualties. They were also accused of attacking oil installations in Hadramaut and Aden provinces in the south. During the hearings, the prosecution displayed before the court explosives and ammunition, including 25 rockets, six artillery shells, 13 mortar shells, 43 bags of gunpowder and two explosive vests seized along with the men.
According to Mr Askar, the militants received their orders from Hamza al Quaiti, a leading al Qa'eda figure who was killed in a police pounding in the south-eastern province of Hadramaut lasts August. Upon hearing the verdict, read by Judge Muhsein Allwan, the defendants indifferently chanted loudly:"God is Almighty." "Our religion is Islam and we are its men; we reject infidelity, secularism and treachery," they said.
The convicts did not appeal the verdict, though they previously rejected the charges of the prosecution when their trial started last March. Some said they had confessed under pressure and torture. "The verdict is unfair and the court procedures are meagre. The court verdict was ready even before the tribunal started," said Tariq al Tamimi, a relative of one of the convicts. Other relatives who said they were not allowed to enter the courtroom denied the involvement of their relatives in al Qa'eda activities and said they would appeal the verdict.
"It is groundless," said Mohammed al Amodi, a brother of Hussam al Amodi, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Yemen suffered a series of terrorist attacks in 2008, most of which targeted foreigners and embassies, including the September attack on the US Embassy that killed 18 people. The court verdict comes one day after the Yemeni interior ministry said extraordinary security measures around foreign diplomatic missions and interests were being taken. In a statement published on its website, the ministry said it is "in anticipation to any terrorist attacks".
Abdulellah Haidar, a researcher specialising in al Qa'eda and Islamist movements, said such measures showed the government was concerned. "The verdict demonstrates how worried it is about any reprisal attacks," Mr Haidar said. He said he expected a strong reprisal by al Qa'eda, particularly if the authorities execute the convicts. "I believe al Qa'eda's reprisal will be fatal. They have not yet retaliated for their colleagues killed by the police in Tarim [in Hadramaut] in August 2008. I expect al Qa'eda reaction will be strong and might reach high-ranking security officials, particularly if the authorities go ahead in executing the verdict," Mr Haidar added.