Awlaqi lawyer denies cleric linked to killing of Frenchman

9th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

A lawyer for radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, accused of incitement to kill foreigners, denied Tuesday the imam was linked to the murder of a Frenchman in Yemen and said his whereabouts are unknown.

Awlaqi and his relative, Othman al-Awlaqi, have been charged in absentia with "incitement to kill foreigners and members of security services" -- charges that arose during the trial of Hisham Assem, who allegedly gunned down Jacques Spagnolo, an employee of energy firm OMV, in October.

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

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

"No one knows where Anwar al-Awlaqi is because if he revealed his location he would be arrested and thrown in prison without a specific charge," Saqqaf said.

The court in Yemen, under mounting US pressure to fight Al-Qaeda after a foiled air cargo bomb plot, on Saturday ordered the arrest by any means of Awlaqi and Othman for alleged links to the terror group.

The court has charged them with "incitement to kill foreigners and members of security services."

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

"My client has no links to Al-Qaeda or the other accused Anwar al-Awlaqi, who is a fugitive from justice," Nasser Ali Mohammed told the Sanaa court, which specialises in terrorism cases.

Eight witnesses testified in court on Tuesday saying they saw Assem fire on Spagnolo but the defendant rejected their testimony.

"No, those are lies," he shouted in court.

One witness said that "after Assem killed the Frenchman (Spagnolo), he went looking for the manager of OMV, an American national, to kill him."

In the end, 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 Assem allegedly carried out.

Judge Mohsen Alwan said the court will further consider the case after the Muslim Eid al-Adha celebration due to start on November 16, but did not specify a specific date.

In a video posted on extremist websites, Awlaqi called for the killing of Americans "without hesitation" and accused Iran of trying to impose control over Sunnis in the Gulf.

"Do not consult anyone in killing Americans," Awlaqi said in a 23-minute video, according to the US monitoring group SITE on Monday

"Killing the devil does not need any fatwa (religious edict)," he added.

"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 Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been under intense pressure from Washington to hunt down Awlaqi.

© 2010 AFP

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