A Yemeni judge sentenced two men to death and four others to prison terms ranging from five to 10 years Wednesday, the first convictions and sentences for the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, an attack blamed on Osama bin Laden’s terror network.
Saudi-born Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location, and Jamal al-Badawi, a 35-year-old Yemeni, were both sentenced to death for plotting, preparing and involvement in the bombing, which killed 17 U.S. sailors as their destroyer refueled in the southern Yemeni port of Aden.
Al-Nashiri, believed to be the mastermind of the Oct. 12, 2000 bombing, was the only one of the six defendants not in the heavily guarded court to hear the sentences. The other five defendants are all Yemenis.
“This verdict is an American one and unjust,” al-Badawi yelled from behind the bars of a courtroom cell after judge Najib 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.”
Still in U.S. custody
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, who is believed to have masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
In addition to the Cole attack, al-Nashiri is suspected of helping direct the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
U.S. Embassy officials in Yemen could not be reached for comment on how the ruling would affect al-Nashiri’s detention. Four American officials attended the sentencing but refused to comment.
Death sentences are routinely handed down by Yemeni courts. Execution is carried out by a firing squad.
Mohammed al-Badawi, brother of the Yemeni condemned to death, denounced the decision and told The Associated Press that his brother and the four other Yemenis sentenced Wednesday would appeal their sentences.
Al-Badawi’s father, also called Mohammed, urged Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to overturn the judge’s decision, which he claimed was made “under heavy American pressure.”
‘ A ready-made verdict’
“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 attack on the Cole, which was carried out by suicide bombers Ibrahim al-Thawr and Abdullah al-Misawa, both Yemenis, who rammed an explosives-laden boat into the destroyer.
“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,” judge al-Qaderi told the court before issuing his sentences.
Al-Qaderi sentenced Fahd al-Qasa to 10 years in jail for filming the bombing, which left a gaping hole in the side of the destroyer, which was later repaired and returned to service.
The court has heard that al-Qasa had 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 located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Money man gets eight-year sentence
Maamoun Msouh received an eight-year prison term for delivering money used in preparing and executing the attack and playing a close role in assisting al-Badawi.
Ali Mohamed Saleh and Murad al-Sirouri were both sentenced to five years in prison for forging identification documents for al-Misawa, one of the suicide bombers.
All the men sentenced on Wednesday are expected to appeal their sentences within 15 days, according to al-Badawi’s brother.
Yemen, the ancestral home of bin Laden, cracked down on militant groups aligned itself with the U.S.-led war on terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks carried out by 19 Arab plane hijackers on New York and Washington.
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 this country, which has long been known for tolerating Islamic extremists.