x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Yemen upholds death sentences against al Qa'eda militants

Court upholds death sentences of four militants involved in attacks that included assault on the US Embassy and killing of two Belgian tourists.

SANA'A// Yemen's state security appeals court upheld yesterday the death sentences of four al Qa'eda militants involved in deadly attacks that included the assault on the US Embassy and the killing of two Belgian tourists in 2008. The court overturned the death sentences of two other militants from the same cell. Their sentences were reduced to 12 years in jail.

The court also reduced the sentences of six other defendants, although 15-year jail sentences were upheld against a Saudi and a Yemeni defendant. Three Syrian nationals had their sentences reduced from 15 to 10 years, along with another Syrian defendant who was initially jailed for 12 years and had two years cut off his sentence. Two Yemenis who originally received 12 and 10-year terms had their sentences cut to eight years, while 12 and eight-year terms were upheld against two other Yemenis.

The verdict was issued amid an intense security presence at the courts, with armoured vehicles patrolling outside. Yemen's state security primary court on July 13, 2009 sentenced the six al Qa'eda militants to death. Ten other defendants, including four Syrians and a Saudi, were sentenced to between eight and 15 years in jail. The 16-member group, known as the Tarim cell, was accused of carrying out 13 terror 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. The US Embassy was also targeted in September 2008 by a car bombing claimed by al Qa'eda that killed 19 people, including seven attackers. The prosecutor said during the trial the group also launched a rocket strike on a compound housing US and western oil workers in Sana'a, with no casualties.

The cell also fired two mortar shells at the Italian Embassy in April 2008 and was found guilty of attacking oil installations in Hadramaut and Aden provinces in the south. During the original trial, the prosecution displayed explosives and ammunition, including 25 rockets, six artillery shells, 13 mortar shells, 43 bags of gunpowder and two explosives vests seized along with the men. Dressed in blue jail uniforms, the convicts chanted "Allah-u-akbar" while one of them was heard saying: "Tyrants - these are the rulings of tyrants."

Before the ruling, one of the men also shouted: "We acknowledge Abu Baseer as our leader", referring to Naser al Wahishi, the leader of al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen branch, which claimed responsibility for the failed bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Day. The sentences came one day after the Yemeni authorities announced the arrest of eight more al Qa'eda suspects, including a Saudi fugitive, in the eastern province of Hadramut after a police raid last week.

Three policemen were killed during clashes with the suspects when police raided a house where the cell members were hiding. Two militants were arrested at the time but the rest escaped before being captured later. They are accused of plotting attacks on security installations, the defence ministry website reported on Saturday. "Two al Qa'eda elements were arrested during a raid on a house where cell members were hiding, and eight others were caught in the following days," the website said.

Yemen blamed al Qa'eda for the attack on the intelligence headquarters in the port city of Aden on June 19 that killed 11 people. Yemen security forces are grappling with a number of insurgent groups including al Qa'eda's branch in Yemen. malqadhi@thenational.ae