Three Britons have confessed to terror charges, say Yemenis

THREE BRITONS arrested by Yemeni security forces this week in connection with alleged terrorist offences have confessed, it was reported last night.

The three, who surrendered to police on Wednesday after being surrounded for two days in mountains in eastern Yemen, were captured with three other men: a French national of Algerian origin, an Algerian and a Yemeni. They will join five other Britons and an Algerian for trial today in the southern port of Aden, after security sources said they had also admitted to charges of associating with armed groups, forming a plan to commit murder and destruction, and possessing weapons.

Last night, campaigners for the British prisoners - all Muslims from Birmingham, Luton and London - called the confessions "worthless" and said they had been elicited through torture.

Claims of torture emerged on Wednesday when the five Britons - Malik Nasser, 26, Samad Ahmed, 21, Shahid Butt, 33, Gulam Hussain, 25, from Luton, Malik Nasser, 26, and one Algerian man arrested on 24 December - appeared in court looking distressed andshowing bruises and cuts. Amid scenes of near-chaos, they claimed they had been sexually abused and electrocuted with cattle-prods. They have now withdrawn their confessions.

So far the Yemenis have denied access to doctors wishing to check the men's condition.

Mohammed Latif, a barrister, and Dr Christopher Milroy, a Home Office pathologist and specialist in investigating torture, were due to fly to Yemen today to see the men, together with Mr Ahmed's father.

The Yemenis were last night reported to be blocking any further visa requests to foreign nationals. This is being interpreted as an attempt to stop the Britons' families gathering support in Yemen.

Relatives of the accused already in Yemen yesterday wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, asking him to intervene. In their letter they repeated claims of torture.

"The trial as presently set up represents a flagrant breach of the Yemeni constitution, the code of criminal procedure and international law," they said. "In their anxiety to have a swift trial the Yemeni authorities are organising a kangaroo court, where the defendants have no chance to answer or refute the prosecution allegations."

The Foreign Office refused to comment on the letter, as it was "private correspondence", but said the torture allegations were being taken seriously. "We have asked for an explanation and investigation at the highest levels," a spokesman said.

The Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, yesterday claimed the Britons were paid $2,000 by the London-based Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to carry out the attacks in Yemen with promises of a further $10,000. He repeated calls for Mr Masri's extradition to Yemen, a difficult move because Britain and Yemen have no extradition treaty.

Fergal Keane, Review, page 3