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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK

World: Middle East

Families condemn Yemen trial

Five Britons received sentences of up to seven years

The conviction of eight Britons for planning bomb attacks against targets in Yemen has been condemned by the men's families and supporters.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports: "The case has put Anglo-Yemeni relations under strain"
The eight, along with two Algerians, were convicted on Monday of plotting what the prosecution called a campaign to drive out Western influence and set up an Islamic state in the Arab country.

Five of the Britons were sentenced to up to seven years in jail, but three were told they could return to Britain after being sentenced to time already served in custody.

However, the three said they were considering staying in Yemen with their co-accused to appeal against their convictions.

'Breach of human rights'

[ image: Weapons allegedly seized by authorities]
Weapons allegedly seized by authorities
Rashid Butt, brother of one of the men, said: "The trial has been a complete joke. They never had a chance. They're innocent."

Lawyers for the men called the trial unfair and politically motivated, and blamed the British government for failing to support their clients.

Geeta Guru-Murthy reports: "The men say they were vistiting to holiday or to study Arabic"
Natalia Garcia, one of the lawyers, said: "All the men will be appealing against their sentences but we have no confidence in the appeal system.

"The British Government, we feel, has in effect condoned and allowed a fundamental breach of human rights and miscarriage of justice to occur."

The defence had argued that there was no evidence against the men, that the defendants were tortured, and that their access to lawyers was restricted.

But UK Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said the government had done all it could for the men.

He added that Prime Minister Tony Blair was writing to Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh about his concerns over allegations of torture

Claims of torture rejected

The Yemeni court found all 10 men guilty of forming an armed gang, and nine of them guilty of planning to bomb the British consulate, an Anglican church and a Swiss-owned hotel in the country.

Mohsin Ghalain, 18, and Malik Harhra, 26, were both jailed for seven years. Shahid Butt, 33, and Sarmad Ahmed, 21, were sentenced to five years. Mohamed Kamel, 17, was sentenced to three years.

Shaz Nabi, 20, Ayad Hussein, 24, and Ghulam Hussein, 25, were sentenced to the time they had already spent in custody. Hussein had already been bailed due to ill health.

The two Algerians, Amer Rahman and Kamal Sageer, were each jailed for five years.

Judge Jamal Mohammad Omar, sitting in court in Aden, a southern port city in the Arab state, described the crimes as "grave".

And he rejected claims from the men, who protested their innocence throughout their six-month trial, that they had confessed under torture.

Links to militants

During the trial, the prosecution claimed that the London-based Muslim fundamentalist Abu Hamza had sent the men to Yemen to carry out terrorist attacks. Hamza is the father of Kamel and step-father of Ghailan.

When the men were arrested in December, the prosecution said authorities found rocket-propelled grenades, TNT explosives, anti-tank rockets, mines, laptops and communications equipment with the defendants.

The prosecution also claimed that the defendants had trained in a military camp run by Islamic militant Zein Al-Abidine al-Mihdar.

In May, he was sentenced to death for his part in the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists. He is alleged to have wanted to swap the hostages for the jailed men.

But four of the tourists, three Britons and one Australian, were shot dead in a gun battle between the kidnappers and the Yemeni authorities during a bungled rescue mission.

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