likely to free jailed Britons early
by Brian Whitaker
This is a longer
version of an article which appeared in The Guardian on 14 September 2000
is planning an early release for five young Britons jailed on
terrorism charges. The move follows a meeting between foreign
secretary Robin Cook and President Ali Abdullah Salih in London
The men were among a
group of 10 found guilty last year of plotting to attack British
and American targets in Aden.
The Yemeni authorities
said they had been sent on a bombing mission by Abu Hamza
al-Masri, the fiery imam of Finsbury Park Mosque, London.
Most of the Britons were
arrested in December 1998 before any attacks had been carried out.
A few days later a Yemeni-based group, the Islamic Army of
Aden-Abyan, which had links with Abu Hamza, kidnapped a party of
16 mainly British tourists in the hope of securing the men's
Four tourists died in a
shootout between the kidnappers and Yemeni security forces. The
kidnappers' leader was later executed.
Malik Nassar Harhara, 27,
from Birmingham, and Londoner Mohsin Ghailan, 20, the stepson of
Abu Hamza, were both sentenced to seven years for their part in
the alleged bomb plot.
Shahid Butt, 34, and
Sarmad Ahmed, 23, both from Birmingham, were jailed for five
years. Mohammed Mustafa Kamel, 18, the son of Abu Hamza, who was
alleged by the prosecution to have masterminded the plot, received
Three other Britons were
sentenced to time served since their arrest and returned home last
autumn. Two other men, who had been living in Britain but are not
British nationals, are still in jail.
The case damaged
relations between Britain and Yemen, and both sides are now keen
to bring it to a close. An early release would please sections of
the British Muslim community who have accused the government of
not doing enough on the men's behalf.
The Yemeni authorities
are concerned that prolonged detention of the Britons could led to
more terrorist attacks, but they are insisting that they should
complete at least two years in jail. President Salih would then
look for "an appropriate occasion" to release them.
The first likely
occasions after the two-year period would be the Muslim festival
of 'Id al-Adha (March 6 next year) or Yemen's National Day (May
Yemen, in turn, is
looking for a relaxation of the Foreign Office's travel advice
which says: "We advise against all holiday and other
non-essential travel to Yemen".
Britain issued its
warning as a result of the 1998 kidnaps and tour companies removed
Yemen from their brochures - with disastrous results for Yemeni
Meanwhile there is
growing concern about the large numbers of British and American
Muslims who visit Yemen to study extreme versions of Islam. Some
obtain visas by registering for bona fide Arabic language courses
which they never attend.
About 30 Britons are
currently at the Wada'a Religious Institute in the wild far north
of Yemen, where foreigners are not encouraged to go because of the
risk of kidnapping.
Last July a 16-year-old
London boy, Hosea Walker, was shot dead at the institute by
another youth who was allegedly cleaning a gun.