Yemen to Free Top Al-Qaeda Suspect

Khaled Al-Mahdi, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2006-11-19 03:00

SANAA, 19 November 2006 — Yemeni authorities will release the suspected second-in-command of Al-Qaeda in Yemen early next year after he serves his jail term of three years and one month, government officials said yesterday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Arab News that Mohammad Hamdi Al-Ahdal, 35, could be released on Jan. 4, after spending three years and one month in prison since his arrest in Sanaa in December 2003.

The officials made the remarks after an appeals court confirmed yesterday the initial sentence handed down on May 3.

In a brief session, presiding judge Saeed Al-Qattaa read out the one-line verdict stipulating that “the court rejected the prosecution’s appeal against the initial ruling.”

As the judge pronounced the verdict, Al-Ahdal shouted “Praise God.”

Al-Ahdal, who is also known as Abu-Asem Al-Makki, was charged with financing attacks against Western targets in Yemen, but the initial verdict said prosecutors had failed to link him to certain attacks in the country.

He was convicted of raising funds for mujahedeen fighting in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Prosecutors told the court that Al-Ahdal has received up to $50,000 from Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden to finance the terror network’s operations in Yemen and to give aid to families of detained members of the group.

They said he had received around $150,000 from a fellow Al-Qaeda member identified as Saudi national Abu Omar Al-Osaimi. During the trial, Al-Ahdal rejected the charge of financing attacks in Yemen. But he admitted to providing financial aid to families of militants held in custody by US or Yemeni authorities.

“Yes, I have been giving financial aid to families of mujahedeen, and I’m happy for doing that,” Al-Ahdal said at an April 18 hearing.

Yemeni authorities believe that Al-Ahdal, who was arrested in 2003, was the deputy of Ali Qaed Sinan Al-Harthi, alias Abu Ali Al-Harthi, who was killed in a November 2002 US missile attack on his car in eastern Yemen. Harthi has been described by Yemeni officials as the top Al-Qaeda local leader in Yemen.

Officials have said that Al-Ahdal was believed to be the financier of the Oct. 12, 2000, suicide attack on the US Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen’s southern harbor of Aden, which killed 17 American sailors. This charge, however, was not mentioned in the charge sheet read out in the courtroom when the trial began on Feb. 13.

Meanwhile, a state security court in Sanaa began yesterday hearing charges against two tribesmen accused of abducting four French tourists in southeastern Yemen last September.

The four Frenchmen were kidnapped on Sept. 10 in Shabwa province, about 460 kilometers from the capital Sanaa, by armed men from the Al-Abdullah clan. The captors were seeking to press the Yemeni authorities to release five jailed fellow clan members.

Four days after the hostages were released on Sept. 25, authorities announced the capture of five men suspected of involvement in the kidnapping. It was not clear why only two suspects were charged.

The two defendants, Ahmad Haidara Laswad Salfouh, 22, and Rajih Muhammad Ahmad Salim, 18, appeared handcuffed before the presiding judge, Najeeb Al-Qadri, during the brief opening hearing.

They pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping charges and said they only had family relations with the abductors.

The trial was adjourned until Nov. 25.

Al-Abdullah is the same clan that kidnapped and held a German diplomat, his wife and three sons and four Italian tourists for several days in December 2005. They said authorities broke a promise they had been given to release the jailed clan members in return for the release of the German family.

Armed tribesmen from impoverished areas of Yemen often take hostages and use them as bargaining chips with the government to press for aid, jobs or the release of detained fellow clansmen. In 1999, Yemen set up special courts to handle cases involving the abduction of foreigners.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen since 1991. Almost all of them were released unharmed through mediation involving tribal leaders.

However, in 1998 an Islamic militant group kidnapped 16 Western tourists, four of whom died in a botched rescue attempt by police. In 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in a similar rescue attempt.

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