Trial begins for Britons on terror charges

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The Independent Online
IN A SMALL white court building, prominent against the red lava cliffs on Aden's foreshore, five Britons stand trial this morning accused of planning a reign of terror in the city by attacking the main hotel, the British Consulate and a church.

Arrested in Aden on 24 December the five defendants, with another man travelling on an Algerian passport, are portrayed in Britain as innocent victims, tortured into confessions by the Yemeni police, and in Yemen as fanatical Islamic terrorists, acting on orders from London.

This is not an easy case to understand. It is heavily influenced by the confrontation between Britain and Yemen over the bloody outcome of the kidnapping of 16 tourists east of Aden last month. Three Britons and an Australian were killed during a rescue attempt by the Yemeni army.

The trial also takes place against a background of Yemeni government fury at the presence in Britain of Abu Hamza al-Masri, who preaches at a London mosque and is the leader of the Supporters of the Sharia (Islamic Law) group. One of the defendants, Mohsin Ghalain, 18, is Mr Masri's stepson and his full son, Mohammed Mustapha Kamil, is on the run in Yemen.

Mr Masri is the one uncontested link between the five Britons and Abu Hassan, the leader of the kidnappers. In the hours before he killed the hostages Abu Hassan used his mobile phone to ring the sheikh in London for advice.

None of this is in the interests of the men on trial - Malek Nasser Harhra, 26, Samad Ahmed, 21, Shahid Butt, 33, of Birmingham, Ghulum Hussein, 25, of Luton and Mohsin Ghalain, 18, of London - all of whom were staying in hotels in Aden in December. They protest that they were there to study Arabic and one of them was planning to get married.

When Abu Hassan kidnapped the tourists it seemed to be one more Yemeni kidnapping of foreigners, of which there have been over a hundred cases. No one had been killed or injured. He demanded the release of two well known Islamic dissidents, but not the five Britons arrested earlier. If these men were really an assault team of Abu Hassan's group it is strange that he did not ask for their freedom.

So far the Britons have only been charged in general terms with planning killing and explosions.

Today their lawyer, Badr Basunaid, will ask for an adjournment to consider the detailed charges.

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