Yemeni court sentences 2 Shiite rebels to death

Yemen Trial
Yemeni Hawthi Shiite rebels leave their trial at the state security court in San'a, Yemen on Saturday.Str / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Yemeni court convicted 12 Shiite rebels of taking up arms against the army Saturday and sentenced two of them to death. The other 10 received prison sentences ranging from eight to 12 years.

After hearing the verdict, the men shouted the rebels' slogan: "God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curse befall the Jews and nobility for Islam."

Yemen's government is embroiled in a five-year conflict with Shiite rebels in the country's north. The rebels, led by Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi, complain their needs are ignored by the government and that the state is increasingly allying with hard-line Sunni fundamentalists, some of whom consider Shiites as heretics.

The 12 men facing trial refused to accept legal counsel and told the judge they would not appeal the verdicts since they are prisoners of war and consider the proceedings illegal.

Judge Radwan al-Nimr rejected their allegations, describing them as "merely an armed gang that took up arms against the state and committed crimes inside the country."

The prosecutor, Khaled al-Borai, told the court he would appeal the verdicts for the 10 men not sentenced to death, hoping to receive harsher sentences.

Prior to Saturday, Yemeni courts had convicted 35 rebels of taking up arms against the state and had sentenced 12 of them to death. About 100 others are awaiting trial.

Also Saturday, another Yemeni court opened a trial against seven alleged al-Qaida members charged with forming an armed group to attack tourists and government institutions. They are also accused of possessing weapons and explosives. All seven men pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, was the site of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors. There have also been a spate of assaults on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, including a 2008 bombing that killed 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians.

The government of this poor country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is a U.S. ally in the global fight against terror and struggles to maintain order. But many areas of the country are beyond government control, and Islamic extremism is strong.