Yemen appeals court upholds death sentence on Islamist militant

Bassam al Haidari was found guilty of offering to work for the Mossad intelligence agency and plotting against the Yemeni government.

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SANA'A // The Yemen state security appeals court upheld yesterday the death sentence against an Islamist militant, who was convicted of seeking to work for Israeli intelligence. Bassam al Haidari, 27, was found guilty of establishing contacts with the office of former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert through the internet, offering to work for the Mossad intelligence agency and plotting against the Yemeni government.

The court in Sana'a upheld the March 2009 three-year sentence of al Haidari's accomplice, Emad al Raimi, 24, but it reduced from five years to three the sentence against another accomplice, Ali al Mahfal, 25 The prosecution said al Haidari and his accomplices operated under the Organisation of Islamic Jihad and spread false information about attacks against western and Arab embassies. The three, whose trial started January 2009, said they would appeal to Yemen's highest court.

"This is a harsh verdict; the death penalty is too much for the man [al Haidari] as what he did was a sort of lightness and play; he was not serious," said Abdulrehman Berman, al Haidari's lawyer. Mr Ali Askar, the prosecutor, said at the initial trial that al Haidari had contacted the Israeli leadership about forming a partnership. "Bassam al Haidari wrote from his own e-mail address to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, in which he said: 'We are the Organisation of Islamic Jihad and you are Jews, but you are honest despite the fact you are the foes of Allah, and we are ready to do anything'," The prosecution also quoted a response from Mr Olmert, in which the former Israeli prime minister offered to support al Haidari as "an agent".

The Israeli government had dismissed the whole case as "totally ridiculous". The men were also convicted of trying to extort money from the embassies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia under the threat of attacks. They sent e-mails to the embassies and media outlets, claiming his group had prepared 16 car bombs to attack the presidential palace, the US, Saudi and UAE embassies in Sana'a, as well as the interior ministry building.

The men were also convicted of sending messages to the Yemeni government demanding US$5 million (Dh18.4m) to stop their operations. They were also convicted of sending messages via e-mail and SMS regarding attacks in Sana'a and Hadramaut; claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing in Sayoun City in July 2008 that killed a policeman and wounded 18 people; and vowing to retaliate for a government operation in August 2008 in Hadramaut in which five suspected al Qa'eda in Yemen members were killed, including the group's No 2, Hamza al Quaiti.

The three men said their confessions to prosecution interrogators were forced and the charges against them fabricated by one of the bodyguards of the president of the country. Yemeni authorities arrested six suspects, including al Haidari, in Sana'a shortly after a September 2008 attack on the US embassy that killed 18 people. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, later said the six suspects were part of an Islamist "terrorist cell" with links to Israeli intelligence that had been dismantled.