A Yemeni appeals court on Saturday upheld the death sentence against a militant convicted in the 2000 al-Qaida bombing of the USS Cole and reduced a death sentence to 15 years in prison against another defendant.
The death sentence was upheld against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi suspected of being an associate of Osama bin Laden.
The court overturned a death sentence against Yemeni militant Jamal al-Badawi, sentencing him instead to 15 years in jail.
“This is an un-Islamic and illegal sentence,” al-Badawi shouted from inside the defendant’s cage.
Suspect also implicated in embassy bombings
Al-Nashiri, who was believed to have masterminded the Cole attack and thought to have directed the 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was the only defendant who was tried in absentia. He is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location.
The court also upheld a 10-year jail sentence against Fahd al-Qasaa and reduced the sentence against Maamoun al-Msoua from eight years to five. It upheld five-year sentences for Ali al-Muratab and Murad al-Serouri.
At the opening of the appeals trial in December, prosecutors said defendants al-Qasaa and al-Msoua should be executed because their collaboration in planning the attack has been proven. They said Yemeni law stipulates that any crime that results in a death is punishable by death.
Defense lawyers countered that the first court ruling was based on circumstantial evidence and submitted a 30-page memorandum arguing the initial investigations were illegal and that the court refused to accept evidence submitted by them.
Saturday’s court session was held under strict security. Streets near the courthouse were blocked and several armored vehicles and military jeeps armed with machine guns surrounded the building.
The U.S. Embassy in San‘a did not send representatives to attend the session.
On Oct. 12, 2000, two suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the USS Cole as it refueled in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 37 others.
Yemen, which had long tolerated Muslim extremists, cracked down on militants following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and aligned itself with the U.S.-led war on terror.