- Associated Press - Sunday, July 11, 2010

SAN’A, Yemen (AP) — A Yemeni appeals court upheld on Sunday the death sentences against four al Qaeda militants in deadly attacks that included the assault on the U.S. Embassy and the killing of two Belgian tourists in 2008, a court official said.

The four were convicted last year as part of an al Qaeda cell behind the March 2008 attack on the embassy that killed a school guard in an adjacent building. The men also were convicted of killing two Belgian women tourists in January 2008.

The official said the appeals court on Sunday overturned the death sentences of two other militants from the same cell who were convicted of attacks on police in southern Hadramut province, and sentenced them to 12 years each instead.

Yemen, an impoverished country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, has struggled to confront a growing al Qaeda presence.

The al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen got a boost in 2009 when the organization merged with the Saudi branch and dramatically increased the pace of its attacks. Militants are believed to have built up strongholds in remote parts of the country, allying with powerful tribes that resent the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Besides the cases of the six militants, the court in San’a on Sunday also upheld sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment against 10 other militants, including four Syrians and a Saudi man, for masterminding the attacks. The cell also was accused of waging successive attacks on police and oil installations.

The court official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

As the court pronounced its rulings, the militants chanted, “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” and pledged allegiance to bin Laden. During their initial trial last year, they shouted insults at the judge and chanted Islamic slogans.

Most of the 16 militants were arrested in August 2008 following a fierce gunbattle between al Qaeda and Yemeni security forces in Hadramut. Police confiscated explosives, rocket propelled grenades and other weapons found inside their homes.

Also Sunday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement that police in Hadramut had arrested 10 militants suspected of being al Qaeda members.


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