Bizarre claims in bomb trial
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 13 July, 2001
STRANGE trial of four Yemenis accused of bombing the
British embassy in Sana’a ended on July 9, having raised more
questions than it answered.
A bomb was thrown over the wall of
the embassy compound on October 13 last year - a day after the
suicide attack on USS Cole in Aden harbour. It hit a fuel tank
supplying a generator and caused damage, but no casualties.
The motive for the embassy attack
remains unclear. Two of the accused, Abu Bakr Said Jayoul, 38, and
Ahmad Masoud Mushrif, 23, pleaded guilty and said it was in
retaliation for Israeli violence against the Palestinians.
This explanation, however, was
offered in the form of a plea for lenient sentences, due to what
the accused seemed to regard as mitigating circumstances.
The other two defendants - Sallam
Salem Abu Jahel, 31, and Fares Saleh Taher, 19 - pleaded not
guilty and said they had made confessions under duress.
Jayoul and Mushrif are also
charged with bombing the home of General Hussein Arab, who was
Yemen’s interior minister at the time of the attack in January
In addition, Jayoul is charged
with receiving money from abroad to finance the attacks and with
having links to Islamic radicals outside Yemen - which he denies.
Because of the contradictory
statements made by the defendants, the facts of the case remain
extremely confused, highlighting the problems of a justice system
which relies heavily on confessions.
Forensic evidence from the scene
of the embassy explosion which was presented in court contradicted
descriptions of the bomb given by the accused.
In the course of the trial, which
began last February, the accused also made - and later retracted -
a series of bizarre claims.
Abu Jahel claimed to work for
Yemeni intelligence. "I have been an employee of the
political police for a year and a half. I received a monthly
salary of 13,500 riyals ($80), but I had no work to do," he
told the court.
Mushrif claimed that a Libyan
diplomat had commissioned the attack and had paid $2,000 for it.
He also told the court that he had
telephoned General Arab, the interior minister, last December to
warn him that "explosions would happen in Aden during New
Two days after the alleged phone
call, a bomb partly destroyed the outside wall of a church in
Aden, while a shell fired at a hotel missed its target and fell
into the sea. The Aden office of the government news agency, Saba,
was also attacked.
General Arab and the Libyan
Brotherhood Office (embassy) have both denied the allegations
referring to them.
After the verdict, which is
expected on July 16, the defendants will be moved to Aden, to be
tried for the bomb attacks which Mushrif says he warned the
interior minister about.
Meanwhile, Yemen says it is ready
to start the trial of eight suspects in the Cole bombing case, but
has agreed to a delay at the request of the United States. Yemeni
officials point out that this is technically illegal because of
the length of time the suspects have been held without trial.
William Burns, the US Secretary of
State for Near East Affairs, visited Yemen at last weekend to
discuss security issues, and during his visit President George
Bush made a telephone call to President Ali Abdullah Salih.
The US embassy in Sana’a has now
re-opened its consular services after a four-week closure prompted
by American fears of a "terrorist threat".
Last month, embassy employees with
non-emergency jobs were authorised to return home. American
citizens were also advised to postpone trips to Yemen.
American newspapers have reported
a dispute between Barbara Bodine, the ambassador in Sana’a, and
John O'Neill, the FBI special agent from New York who has been
leading investigations into the Cole attack.
Ms Bodine reportedly vetoed O’Neill’s
efforts to return to Yemen and arm his team with heavier weapons -
which she felt would be likely to inflame the situation.