SANA'A // Yemen's state security court yesterday sentenced four al Houthi militants to death for taking part in battles against government forces near the capital last year. Eleven others were sentenced to terms ranging from five to 15 years in jail. "The defendants are guilty of forming an armed gang to fight against security forces in Bani-Hushaish district," Muhsein Allwan, the judge, said. The Bani Hushaish neighbourhood is about 30km north of Sana'a.
The judge said the group members prepared for their attacks by procuring all the necessary equipment, including light and heavy weapons, ammunition and explosives. "They also established the barricades at Bani Hushaish and its surroundings [which] resulted in the killing of a large number of army and security personnel and citizens, including women and children, as well as blowing up and looting a number of military vehicles," Mr Allwan said, without giving a figure of the deaths and injuries caused by the militants' attacks.
One defendant was freed as the judge limited his term to time already served. Upon hearing the verdict, the convicts, who were arrested in May 2008, shouted: "God is great", "Death to America", "Death to Israel" and "Curse upon the Jews, victory for Islam - we will not accept repression". The convicts are associated with those fighting the army in the northern province of Sa'ada and in the Harf Sufian district of neighbouring Amran province.
The convicts, handcuffed, refused to appeal against the verdict because they do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the court and its trial procedures. This is the latest in a series of recent trials involving Shiite insurgents. Including these verdicts, the number of al Houthis from the Bani Hushaish group condemned to death has reached 26. Last week, the same court sentenced 12 people to death and 15 others to jail terms ranging from one to 15 years. Seven of the group were sentenced to death in July and two received death sentences last year.
The convicts are among 190 rebel fighters captured by security forces during the clashes in Bani-Hushaish that erupted in May 2008 and that had gone on for about three months. They are being tried in groups. Forty-four rebels still must face trial. The same court yesterday began the trial of 10 more al Houthi militants from the Bani Hushaish group. Facing the same charges, the defendants, except one, said they reject the court and refused to accept state-appointed defence lawyers. They are defending themselves.
"We do reject the court and the tribunal procedures. The court has got no legitimacy," they said in response to the judge questions. Fierce fighting continues between the army and al Houthi insurgents in Sa'ada and Harf Sufian. The army said yesterday that 10 rebels were killed. Among the injured was Yahia Kazmi, a leading rebel, whose hand was cut off during the fighting in Sa'ada. The army also said it destroyed a number of strongholds of al Houthi fighters in both Sa'ada and Harf Sufian, but did not provide details.
The rebels said in an e-mailed statement on Monday that their fighters had gained control of the al Qalah military post, marking their complete control over Razeh district in Sa'ada. Such reports could not be verified from independent sources. Both Sa'ada and Harf Sufian are closed to journalists. The govern ment launched a massive operation on August 11 against the rebels, who have been fighting an intermittent war for more than five years. Al Houthi rebels belong to the Zaidi offshoot of Shia Islam.
In addition to the insurgency in the north, Yemen is also facing a growing secessionist uprising in the south, the threat of an expanding al Qa'eda presence and economic hardships including the depletion of oil and water resources. Thousands took yesterday to the streets in the southern provinces of Lahj, Dhalé and Abyan to demand the release of hundreds of people arrested in previous protests where dozens were reportedly killed and injured.
The protesters carried pictures of victims as well as flags of the former southern republic that merged with the north in 1990. Naser al Khubaji, an MP and a leading politician in the southern separatist movement, called for more protests leading up to independence day celebrations in November. @Email:email@example.com