Bizarre claims in bomb trial
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East International, 13 July, 2001
THE 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 2000.
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 Year celebrations."
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.