Britons are charged with murder plot

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The Independent Online
THE BRITONS held in Yemen on suspicion of being Islamist terrorists were formally charged last night with planning to cause "murder, explosions and destruction".

The five men were charged under article 133 of the Yemeni penal code, which accused them of "association with an armed gang with a criminal plan". An unnamed French national faces the same charge. They have all pleaded not guilty.

Trials in Yemen usually last only a few days, and if convicted, the men are likely to be executed by firing squad immediately after the verdict.

The men's Yemeni lawyer, Badr Basunaid, said he was allowed to see his clients when they were charged, the first time he has been able to speak to them since they were arrested on 23 December.

Their families have appointed Gareth Peirce, the lawyer who successfully appealed the cases of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, to defend the men.

Ms Peirce said last night that the treatment of the men had been "appalling" and that no reliable evidence could be gained from their "highly unusual treatment".

She said: "Three of the men have just told Mr Basunaid they have been tortured during interrogation for three weeks and they have been kept in solitary confinement."

At a meeting at the Central Security Headquarters in Aden yesterday, police showed Mr Basunaid at least one basket containing TNT explosive and evidence of two rockets and anti-tank grenades. They claimed that these had been found with the five men.

He said that Mohsen Ghalain, 18, of London, and Shahid Butt, 33, Malik Nassar Harhra, 26, Samad Ahmed, 21, all of Birmingham, stood handcuffed while the charging procedures were carried out. Ghulam Hussein, 25, of Luton, was charged later.

Ms Peirce has demanded that the three Scotland Yard detectives in Yemen investigating the murders of three British tourists in December, do not question her clients because they have no jurisdiction. She said the Home Office had written to her yesterday agreeing to her request.

The charging of the men comes against a backdrop of growing tension between the British and Yemeni authorities.

After reports which claimed the Britons had confessed they were sent to blow up Western targets by a north London Imam, Abu Hamza, the Yemeni government in Sanaa accused Britain of harbouring terrorists.

British anti-terrorist sources last night confirmed that while they had "looked at" Mr Hamza, who is based at the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park, they do not consider him a danger.