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Judge sentences USS Cole defendants

Thursday, September 30, 2004

SAN'A, Yemen -- A Saudi suspected of being an associate of Osama bin Laden and a Yemeni militant were sentenced to death by firing squad Wednesday for the bombing of the USS Cole four years ago, the first convictions in the al-Qaida terror attack that killed 17 American sailors.

The judge ordered four other Yemenis jailed for up to 10 years.

The five defendants in Yemen's custody refuse to enter pleas, claiming U.S. interference in the case.

The judge ordered Jamal al-Badawi, a 35-year-old Yemeni, and Saudi-born Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location, executed for plotting the attack by two suicide bombers who blew up an explosives-laden boat next to the Cole as it refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000.

In reading the verdict, the judge pointed to the prosecution's statement that Badawi and al-Nashiri bought the speedboat the bombers rammed into the Cole.

"This verdict is an American one and unjust," al-Badawi yelled from behind the bars of a courtroom cell after al-Qaderi sentenced him to death. "There are no human rights in the world, except for the Americans. All the Muslims in the world are being used to serve American interests."

Al-Nashiri, who is believed to have masterminded the Cole attack and also thought to have directed the 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was the only defendant not present during the trial.

Al-Nashiri is one of a number of senior al-Qaida figures who have been held in U.S. custody at undisclosed locations for interrogations since their captures. It is not believed the suspects are being held at the U.S. terror jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but instead are held in another country overseas.

U.S. officials have not said whether they will hand Al-Nashiri over to Yemeni authorities, and it not clear how the verdict would affect his detention. Four American officials attended the sentencing, but refused to comment on the trial. U.S. Embassy officials in Yemen, reached by The Associated Press, also declined immediate comment.

The United States announced al-Nashiri's arrest in 2002. He was detained in the United Arab Emirates and transferred to American custody. U.S. officials believe he is a close associate of Saudi-born bin Laden.

Al-Nashiri's lawyer, Mohammed al-Ezzani, accused the court of not using any of the evidence he presented to argue his client's innocence. "There are no documents by which the court can justify its death sentence," al-Ezzani told AP.

Mohammed al-Badawi, brother of the Yemeni condemned to death, denounced the verdict and told AP his brother and the four other Yemenis convicted Wednesday would appeal their sentences.

Al-Badawi's father, also named Mohammed, urged Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to overturn the decision, which he claimed was made "under heavy American pressure."

"It is a ready-made verdict and we will appeal," the father said.

The six men were all charged with belonging to al-Qaida and playing various roles in the suicide attack on the Cole, which was carried out by two Yemenis, Ibrahim al-Thawr and Hasaan al-Khamri.

"The evidence obtained by the court affirms the collaboration of the defendants in the case ... which harmed the country, its reputation and threatened its social stability and security," the judge said before issuing his sentences.

Al-Qaderi sentenced Fahd al-Qasa to 10 years in prison for filming the bombing, which ripped a huge hole in the destroyer. Evidence was given that al-Qasa traveled to Afghanistan in 1997 to train at an al-Qaida terrorist camp, but it was unclear how long he spent there before returning to Yemen, a tribal-dominated country at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Maamoun Msouh received an eight-year term for delivering money used in preparations for the attack and for assisting al-Badawi. Ali Mohammed Saleh and Murad al-Sirouri were each sentenced to five years for forging identification documents used by one of the suicide bombers.

A Yemeni political analyst, Mohammed al-Sabri, said the verdicts did not mean the case was over.

"This is not a criminal case, but one of a political and strategic nature," al-Sabri said, noting that al-Nashiri is held by the Americans and perhaps could face a U.S. trial.

But he suggested other people suspected of involvement in the Cole attack, including some under arrest, were not being tried because Yemeni leaders hoped to quiet talk about the case. "Authorities want to get rid of a psychological and media burden," he said.

The government of Yemen, the ancestral home of bin Laden, cracked down on militant groups and aligned itself with the U.S.-led war on international terrorist groups after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

The United States has since provided equipment to Yemen's military to beef up port and border controls and trained Yemeni security forces to battle militants in a country previously known for tolerating Islamic extremists.


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