- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

SAN’A, Yemen — A chaotic three-month trial ended yesterday with 15 militants convicted for roles in terror attacks on a French oil tanker and a helicopter carrying U.S. oil workers, as well as plots to kill the American ambassador and Yemeni security officials.

The court sentenced one man — convicted of killing a Yemeni police officer — to death and the others from three to 10 years in jail. One man was tried in absentia.

“There is no God but God, America is the enemy of God, Osama is beloved by God,” the defendants chanted from their court cells, referring to Osama bin Laden, ringleader of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

“They want us to nullify our pact with Osama. By God, that will never happen,” Fawaz al-Rabeiee, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, cried before a courtroom packed with defendants’ relatives, journalists and security.

Outside, sharpshooters were posted on nearby rooftops. Several armored vehicles and machine-gun mounted military jeeps surrounded the court and blocked streets.

The trial, which began May 29, centered on the October 2002 bombing of the French oil tanker Limburg off the Yemeni coast. Two suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the vessel, killing a Bulgarian crew member and spilling 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden — an operation very similar to the attack off the coast of Yemen on the American destroyer USS Cole two years earlier.

Since the trial began, the defendants have accused authorities of not following proper procedures and undermining their rights. Often, lawyers and prosecutors hurled insults at each other and the defense team repeatedly walked out of the courtroom in protest.

The defendants vowed to appeal their verdicts and sentences.

Judge Ahmed al-Jarmouzi sentenced six defendants to 10 years in prison for participating in the Limburg bombing.

Also sentenced to 10 years was Yasser Ali Salem, who is still at large and was tried in absentia. Salem was believed to be a key plotter of the Limburg attack and to have been in charge of buying and delivering the explosives used by the suicide bombers.

Hazam Majali was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing a Yemeni police officer at a checkpoint in 2002.

Six others were sentenced to five years jail for detonating explosives at embassies, plotting to assassinate U.S. Ambassador Edmund Hull and security officials, and roles in an attack on a helicopter carrying U.S. employees of the Texas-based Hunt Oil Co. in November 2002. Another was sentenced to three years for possessing forged documents.

In issuing his verdict, Judge al-Jarmouzi cited the defendants’ confessions that Saudi-born Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an alleged mastermind of the USS Cole attack, gathered funds for the Limburg operation to buy explosives and the boat that rammed into the tanker.

Al-Nashiri, one of six Cole defendants in a trial currently under way in Yemen, is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location. U.S. officials believe he was closely associated with bin Laden. Besides the Cole attack, he is suspected of helping direct the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

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