Britons await verdict in Yemen terrorism trial

THE DRAB colonial courtroom near the old port in Aden will be packed and sweltering as the verdicts are read in Arabic. Simple tourists or agents of terror? When the judge has pronounced, the eight young Britons in their blue prison smocks are likely to make their views known loudly from dock - whatever the outcome.

The trial has dragged on for six months as the ceiling fans have churned to little effect and eyelids have drooped among the few reporters to follow it. Alongside the tedium, however, controversy and farce have been evident too. Controversy came when every member of the defence team resigned because they could not consult their clients in prison. They were also denied the right to call independent experts on the torture the eight claim to have suffered.

Farce also surfaced during the proceedings as poor translations saw the defendants fall around with laughter while the judge hammered vainly for silence with his much-used gavel.

This desert saga began in the most unlikely fashion last December when an Aden policeman stopped a car for driving the wrong way at a roundabout. Its three occupants started to hand over papers then thought better of it. There was a chase, a crash and later the three were tracked down to a villa, where they had been staying with others. Some of the eight were actually rounded up in the desert after sheltering with Bedouin tribesmen.

They turned out to be Britons from the Pakistani communities around London, Luton and the Midlands: Mohamed Kamel, 17; Shahid Butt, 33; Mohsen Gailan, 18; Sarmad Ahmed, 22; Malek Nasser Harhara, 26; Ghulam Hussein, 25; Shahzad Nabi, 20 and Ayaz Hussein, 26. They had come to the Yemen, they said, to take a holiday or to study Arabic.

For the police, these stories were much at odds with what they claimed to have found in the car boot: five kilograms of TNT, five mines and two rocket launchers.

The Britons then confessed to a plot to wreak slaughter on Westerners on Christmas Day. Their targets allegedly included a tourist hotel, a club, a restaurant, the British Consulate and Aden's Christian Church.

The confessions told how the men had collected the explosives from Abu al-Hassan, commander of a fundamentalist army pledged to turn Yemen into an Islamic state. They were said to have had weapons training with his guerrillas in the Yemeni mountains.

As if to confirm the link, when Abu al-Hassan heard of the arrests he kidnapped 16 holidaymakers on a valley trek, most of them British. He demanded his "jailed friends" were freed. Four of the tourists died when the Yemeni army decided to end the hostage crisis with a shoot-out. Abu al-Hassan was captured, tried and sentenced to death.

At their trial, the eight Britons have insisted that the confessions they signed with inked thumb-prints were all produced under torture. They have accused their interrogators of deploying electric shock treatment and beatings, sexual abuse and hanging them upside down by their feet. When their demand for an independent medical examination was rejected they held a sit-down protest in the cell below the court, until being pushed back into the session at gunpoint.

Each defendant tells a different story of what took him to the Yemen, and some seem to have no links with each other. One Islamic figure in London, however, looms as an apparent link across continents and cultures, the Imam at Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza. Mohamed Kamel, 17, and the youngest of the accused, is Abu Hamza's son. Mohsen Gailan is the Imam's stepson.

The group Abu Hamza founded, "Supporters of Shariah" is committed to defending Shariah or Islamic law against states it sees as threatening its values, such as Yemen, and the corruption of Islam by the West. He has previously sent out communiques supporting Abu al-Hassan's Islamic army.

Supporters of Shariah organise training, including arms instruction, for Muslims who are willing to act for the cause. Yemeni police actually paraded for view several "training videos" made by Abu Hamza's group and allegedly found among the Britons' possessions. None the less Abu Hamza denies that he sent his son, his stepson or anyone else to blow up targets in Yemen.

Different videos were screened in court to show the defendants' attraction to military pursuits. These home movies, filmed in Albania, hardened at least the circumstantial case against them. First Abu Hamza's stepson, Mohsen Gailan, was shown brandishing a Kalashnikov. Then Mohamed Kamel was shown loading a gun and pointing it in the air. Later on the tape he was filmed tying a grenade to a door handle, apparently rigging a booby trap.

The families say that British consular and legal assistance for the accused has been non-existent, and argue it would have been very different if these men had been white Britons.

There are some in Aden who expect the verdicts and the sentences to reflect the gravity with which the case has been portrayed here - and perhaps to make a political point. This is the story, Yemen says, of Britain, a Western government that has long complained of the Middle East exporting terrorism, allowing itself to be a base for terror aimed at this region. If the judge finds against Mohamed Kamel and the others, sentences could be as long as 10 years.

Others prefer to look a little beneath the surface. Yemen is a poor economy desperately in need of Western aid, they point out. This case has made relations tricky enough between Yemen and Britain. Whatever the outcome it may be that these eight "tourists" are sent home soon anyway. A deal could be in everyone's best interests.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
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: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

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
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before