Four Sudanese men were condemned to hang Wednesday for killing a U.S. diplomat and his driver. A fifth was sentenced to two years in prison.
John Granville, 33, who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and his 39-year-old driver Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama were shot dead in Khartoum as they returned from New Year's celebrations early on Jan. 1, 2008.
"We sentence the first four defendants to death by hanging," Judge Sayed Ahmed al-Badri said in the Khartoum court as the guilty verdicts on their murder charges were announced amid tight security.
A fifth defendant, who admitted helping some men buy weapons but denied knowing anything about the murder, was sentenced to two years in jail for illegally dealing in weapons.
In earlier hearings, prosecution lawyers and witnesses had described them as "religious extremists" who had plotted to kill Americans they blamed for the introduction of international peacekeepers into Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.
The police's chief investigator had told the court the men had funded the killing with a donation from a Saudi Arabian man and money left over from a failed bomb plot against Western embassies in Khartoum.
The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum this week urged its citizens to keep a low profile and stay away from the downtown court, repeating a warning that a group calling itself "al-Qaida in the Land between the Two Niles" had issued in statements mentioning Granville's murder and threatening to kill more Americans.
The verdict was greeted by cheers of "God is Greatest, long live justice" by Rahama's family, which had asked for a death sentence in line with Islamic law that allows families of murder victims to demand the death penalty or financial compensation.
Lawyers representing Granville's family read a letter to the court saying they preferred the killers be jailed for their crimes, but said that was not presented as a possibility, so they opted to support a death sentence.
The four defendants who were condemned to hang had denied murdering Granville, saying video-taped confessions shown to the court were extracted under torture.
Prosecutor Mohamed Al Mustapha Moussa had said the defendants' original plan was to find a New Year's Eve party and kill guests as they left. After failing to find a celebration, they decided to track down Americans driving home, he added.
Lawyers said the men, all in their 20s and 30s, spotted the U.S. diplomatic plates on Granville's vehicle and opened fire when it stopped in the Riyadh area of the capital.
Lawyers said the four shouted Islamic slogans after the killing, then left Khartoum to take refuge in the northern city of Atbara, stopping on the way to pray.
The prosecution said defendants Mohamed Makkawi Ibrahim Mohamed and Abdel Basit al-Hajj Hassan fired the shots that killed Rahama and Granville.
Prosecution statements said the third defendant Mohamed Osman Yusuf Mohamed, a former army officer, was the driver of the attackers' vehicle while Abdel Raouf Abu Zaid Mohamed, the son of a well-known Islamic preacher, was a passenger.
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