Defiant shouts end a strange saga of international intrigue and conspiracy

UNDER DIFFERENT circumstances, Samad Ahmed could have been in his local pub yesterday afternoon, enjoying his usual lager and lime. His friend Mohsin Ghailan would have been equally at ease in sharp designer clothing and trendy dyed red hair. Just a couple of lads with Brummie accents, arguing about football, or cars or the music scene .

Instead, they stood in a hot and packed courtroom inYemen with photographers and cameramen jostling for space as Judge Jamal Mohammed Omar announced his verdict. They and three other Britons in the dock with them were guilty of taking part in a terrorist plot to carry out bombings and murders. The defendants shouted "Allahu Akhbar" in a gesture of defiance, members of their families were in tears. Outside, more than 200 soldiers from the country's special forces kept guard on jeeps with mounted machine guns.

It was the dramatic finale to an extraordinary tale of international intrigue, conspiracy and diplomatic furore. The Britons were convicted of preparing to unleash jihad - a holy war - in Aden.

They planned to destroy the only Christian church in the city with a rocket attack; blow up tourists by mining the Movenpick Hotel; cut the throats of known homosexuals and assassinate British and other Western diplomats.

There is little in the background of the men convicted yesterday to explain why they would leave homes and families in England and travel 3,000 miles to unleash carnage. Ahmed and Ghailan were students, from Birmingham and West London respectively, their fellow defendant Gulam Hussein, 25, was a security guard from Luton. Shazad Nabi, 20, was a bus driver and Ayaz Hussain, 26, a computer studies graduate, both from Birmingham, as were Malik Nasser, a graduate in information systems, and Shahid Butt, a charity worker. Mohammed Mustafa Kamal, at 17, the youngest, had just left school in North London.

Six of the group were born in England of Pakistani or North African parents. Malik Nasser, though born in Yemen, was brought to England when only two months old. Shahid Butt was six months old when his family moved from Pakistan.

None of them, to the casual observer, showed signs of being particularly devout Muslims; they did not burn with religious zeal and blended easily into the multi-cultural city schools and surroundings they grew up in. Ghailan, according to his Yemeni guards, did not know how many times a day a Muslim should pray, or which side of his cell faced Mecca.

When first arrested last December they appeared to be unfortunate victims of an impending miscarriage of justice; confessions had been beaten out of them, their families and supporters told everyone who would listen. But it seems that, despite their normal British upbringing, at least some of them had actually begun to move in a dangerous and violent world.

It is worth noting that half way through the trial the vocal campaign on behalf of the Yemen Eight effectively collapsed. The Muslim business community in England stopped raising money for their defence, charities began to shy away and the fighting fund ground to a halt at pounds 26,000. Three of the Aden lawyers left the team because there were not enough funds to pay them.

The turning point came with the unearthing of a videotape showing Mohsin Ghailan and Mustafa Kamal toting guns in Albania with men the Yemeni prosecution said were members of the mujahedin, warriors who had fought for Islam from Afghanistan and Kashmir to the Balkans. The Yemeni authorities also showed off mines, rockets and TNT which they claimed the defendants had intended to use.

The two young men were also linked to a man who, from his base in Finsbury Park, North London, has cast a long shadow over the proceedings. Mustafa was the son, and Mohsin, the godson, of Abu Hamza, a night-club bouncer turned militant Muslim cleric, who preaches the overthrow of Muslim governments who have refused to enforce Islamic law, and supposedly sold out to the godless West.

Abu Hamza, who says he lost both hands fighting in Afghanistan, has criss-crossed Britain on a Friday afternoon prayer circuit, spreading the word that the young should take up the sword of Islam. One of his stops was in Birmingham and among those listening were some of the young men who are starting prison sentenced in Yemen today.

Their presence at his meetings was a reaction against their liberal, secular upbringing in Britain. Among some young Muslims there was mounting anger that, throughout the world, Islam was being oppressed and traduced. Abu Hamza told them they should do something about it.

Selim Nasruddin, a young engineer, who went to some of these meetings, recalled the atmosphere of fervour: "Many young British Muslims have a feeling of disenchantment and being hard done by. They see fellow Muslims suffering in places like Bosnia and Kosovo and Palestine, and Muslim governments which are corrupt and not following the laws of Allah. Going off to fight for such a cause can be quite appealing for kids leading boring lives and who can be easily indoctrinated."

Abu Hamza ran an organisation called the Supporters of Shariah which, as well as advocating Islamic revolution, ran food convoys to Muslim refugees in the Balkans. It is claimed that some of these trips were covers for establishing links with the mujahedin, planning operations and training. Samad Ahmed had become heavily involved with the SoS, it is claimed, as had Malik Nasser.

Abu Hamza is a bit of a Walter Mitty, boasting guerrilla experience and international connections that he did not have. Nevertheless, the eight young men, with varying degrees of connection to the cleric all ended up in the Yemen. The defendants say they were there for a variety of reasons, from holidays to arranging a haj - a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Yemeni authorities say the real reason was to establish contact with the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA). Abu Hamza is supposed to have met its leader, Zen al-Abidine al-Mihdar, when he spent some time in Yemen after leaving Afghanistan. Last September a member of the IAA gave a lecture in Abu Hamza's Finsbury Park mosque, and handed out recruiting literature.

Al-Mihdar and his men had already made headlines across the world when they kidnapped 16 Western tourists. A botched rescue attempt led to the deaths of four hostages, three Britons and an Australian. The prosecution claimed the Britons had been dispatched by Abu Hamza to train at one of Al-Mihdar's secret desert camps.

But after a traffic offence one night last December the plan started to unravel. Three of the young Britons were stopped by a policeman. They bolted, abandoning their car and fleeing on foot. By next morning, five of them had been hauled out of their hotel rooms by police.

Three others fled into the desert and hid out for a week before being betrayed by a local sheikh.

The journey which had started in the mosques of London and Birmingham was coming to its grim end.

How Case Unfolded

3 July 1998

Malik Nasser, first of the eight in Yemen, arrives with mother, to visit relatives at his father's village, Yafa'i

13 November to 18 December

Other seven arrive and book into hotels and villa

23/24 December

Five Britons and man with French passport arrested after police chase

7 January 1999

Yemenis tells Foreign Office Britons being held

15 January

Detainees charged with "association with armed gangs ... to commit murder, explosions and destruction, and possession of weapons"

23 January

Britons tell lawyer they have been tortured, sexually abused and forced to confess

27 January

Mustafa Kamel, Shazad Nabi and Iyaz Hussein arrested and charged. Trial begins in Aden

31 January

British pathologist Chris Milroy says torture claims "very persuasive"

10 February

Bid to dismiss charges on torture grounds fails

9 May

Gulam Hussain, asthma sufferer, released on bail on health grounds

22 June

Trial ends. Verdict awaited

9 August

Court finds men guilty

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power