Yemen convicts Britons of terrorism

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The Independent Online
EIGHT BRITONS were found guilty by a Yemeni court yesterday of forming an Islamic terrorist gang to attack Western targets, including the British consulate in Aden.

The verdicts, after a six- month trial, led to protests from the British families of the defendants, who claimed some of the men had been tortured into confessing. Five of the defendants, including a 17-year-old, received jail terms of between three and seven years. Three others were freed because they had already served the length of their sentences in custody. Last night they were said to be thinking of staying in Yemen to appeal against the convictions. Two other men, of Algerian descent, were jailed for five years each.

Relatives of the eight men, who are from London, Luton and Birmingham, were due to meet Peter Hain, a Foreign Office minister. They have repeatedly criticised the Government for not doing enough to ensure a fair trial.

The Yemeni authorities claimed the men had been sent by Abu Hamza, a London-based Muslim cleric, to take part in a campaign of violence against the government. Two of those convicted, Mohamed Kamel, 17, and Mohsen Gailan, 18, are Abu Hamza's son and godson.

Last night the cleric, who is also accused of complicity in last year's kidnap of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, four of whom were shot dead during a rescue attempt, claimed the verdicts and sentences were retaliations against him. "The Yemeni regime is against Muslims ... I wouldn't be so naive as to ask the British Government to defend Muslims."

The men faced two charges: conspiracy to form an armed group and conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities. Kamel, found guilty on both counts, was sentenced to three years and two years. Malek Nasser, 26, and Gailan were both also found guilty on two counts and received seven years and three years. Sarmad Ahmed, 21, was jailed for five years and three years, with all sentences to be served concurrently.

Shahid Butt was convicted on the first count and sentenced to five years. Ghulam Hussein, 25, Shahzad Nabi, 20 and Ayaz Hussein, 26, were all freed because of time already served.

Shahid Butt's brother Rashid, said that the "joke trial" had been a nightmare. Breaking into tears as he ploughed through a prepared statement, Mr Butt could not hide his frustration at perceived Foreign Office inactivity,which he said bordered on the institutional racism exhibited during the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry.

"Every time we have turned to official sources we have had the door slammed in our faces," he said. "We must not let this become another Lawrence tragedy. I am completely devastated and have the impossible task of going home to explain to my family and my brother's four kids, including his son Mulahim who cries every night for his father, that their father won't be coming back home."

His anger was shared by Atif Ahmed, the brother of Sarmad Ahmed, also jailed for five years. Mr Ahmed said British diplomats were guilty of "double standards" in dealing with Anglo-Asians abroad.

Rashad Yaqoob, the campaign's legal adviser, said: "This is an opportunity for the British Government to demonstrate the commitment that it does not at all look at race or colour when fulfilling its legal obligation to protect all its citizens abroad."

Last night, Mr Hain said: "We continue to take seriously the allegations that some of the men were tortured whilst in custody. The Prime Minister is writing to President Saleh."

Downing Street said the letter would be sent within 24 hours but the details would not be made public.