Judge order to 'get Awlaki dead or alive'

US-born preacher, branded by the US as 'specially designated global terrorist', skips trial on charges of orchestrating killings in Yemen.

SANA'A // A Yemeni judge yesterday ordered the radical US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki to be captured "dead or alive" after he failed to appear at his trial last week on terrorism charges.

The order was issued by the judge Muhssein Alwan, the top justice in the state security court, during the trial of Hisham Mohammed Assem, 19, who is charged with killing a French citizen last month at the Sana'a office of Austria's largest industrial company, the oil and chemicals group OMV AG.

Judge Alwan ordered Mr al Awlaki to be "arrested by force, dead or alive" after he failed to appear for the start of Mr Assem's trial on Tuesday. Mr al Awlaki, along with his cousin Othman al Awlaki, were charged in absentia last week as co-defendants in a surprise announcement during the first day of Mr Assem's trial.

Prosecutors say Mr al Awlaki, who is also wanted by the US for alleged links with al Qa'eda, incited Mr Assem to kill foreigners in e-mail exchanges. Mr Assem was a security guard at OMV. Mr al Awlaki and his cousin are also charged with forming an armed gang to kill foreigners in Yemen.

Mr al Awlaki has been named a "specially designated global terrorist" by the US Treasury Department and it has been revealed that the Obama administration authorised the CIA to capture or kill him.

Mr al Awlaki was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, and his sermons advocating violence against the US have influenced militants involved in several attacks or attempted attacks on US soil.

If found, Mr al Awlaki would be tried in Yemen because the constitution forbids the extradition of its citizens.

During yesterday's trial, prosecutors read what they said was Mr Assem's confession that he had links with Mr al Awlaki. Mr Assem, however, said he was forced to confess.

"All these confessions are fabricated and I was forced to sign them while my eyes were blindfolded," Mr Assem said. He said he was also subjected to sleep deprivation. "This is just a farce court meant to appease the French."

"I do not know al Qa'eda and I have not been in contact with al Awlaki who I did not hear about. I had 120 bullets with me and if I was incited by al Qa'eda, I could have killed all the foreigners in the company and not the French man.

"I used to go to the internet to listen to music."

The trial was adjourned until Tuesday.

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press