Frenchman's killer gets death in Yemen, Awlaqi 10 years

17th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Yemen on Monday sentenced to death a Yemeni accused of killing a Frenchman and handed down a 10-year jail sentence in absentia to radical US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.

A Sanaa criminal court passed the death sentence on Hisham Mohammed Assem after convicting him of killing French energy contractor Jacques Spagnolo near Sanaa in October.

"I reject the verdict and will appeal," Assem, who appeared in a blue prison uniform, said from the court security cage. The hearing was attended by several French diplomats.

The same court sentenced Awlaqi to 10 years in prison for taking part in an armed group and incitement to kill foreigners.

His relative, Othman al-Awlaqi, was sentenced to eight years on the same charges. Both are on the run and were sentenced in absentia.

"This crime (killing Spagnolo) was committed under the incitement of Anwar and Othman al-Awlaqi," the judge said as he read the verdict.

The court also accused the three men of "working within a terrorist group."

Spagnolo, who worked for energy group OMV, was gunned down at the company's compound in Sanaa on October 6, the same day a British embassy car was targeted by a rocket attack that wounded one person.

Assem was overpowered and arrested. At the time, OMV said it saw "no political background for the action taken by the Yemeni security guard" while the defence ministry said Assem had probably acted for personal reasons in what was a criminal matter.

However, it stressed that the conclusions were preliminary.

Prosecutors have said that Awlaqi corresponded with Assem for months, encouraging him to kill foreigners.

Mohammed al-Saqqaf, a lawyer for both Anwar and Othman, told the court in November that the pair had no "connection or contact" with Assem, and that he also did not know where Awlaqi was.

Assem's lawyer too had denied that his client had been in touch with Awlaqi.

Eight witnesses testified in court that they saw Assem fire on Spagnolo, with one saying that after the killing the defendant "went looking for the manager of OMV, an American national, to kill him."

One other person -- a British national described by OMV as an expert who worked at the company's branch office -- was wounded in the October 6 attack.

Earlier this year US President Barack Obama's administration authorised the targeted killing of Awlaqi.

The cleric has been linked to a US army major charged with shooting dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009 and to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25 that year.

In the latest edition of Inspire, the English-language online magazine issued by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Anwar al-Awlaqi renewed a call to strike the American government and citizens, SITE monitoring agency reported Sunday.

"Both the (US) government and private citizens should be targeted," he wrote in an article. "America and Americans are the imams of kufr (leaders of disbelief) in this day and age."

In a video posted on extremist websites, Awlaqi has called for the killing of Americans "without hesitation." "It's either us or you," Awlaqi said, addressing Americans in the video.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and headquarters of AQAP, has been under intense pressure from Washington to hunt down Awlaqi and root out the jihadists.

© 2011 AFP

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