February 22, 2006

Yemen tries 17 Qaeda suspects for planning attacks

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen on Wednesday put on trial 17 men,
including five Saudis, charged with planning attacks against
U.S. interests in the country on the orders of the leader of al
Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The prosecutor said the defendants had planned to carry out
"criminal attacks" to avenge the U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency's killing of a top al Qaeda operative in 2002.

He said they had travelled to Iraq and then returned to
Yemen in 2004 to "carry out their mission on the directives of
Abu Musab al Zarqawi."

The defendants admitted to going to Iraq but denied
planning any attacks in Yemen.

"Our problem with the United States is in Iraq, not Yemen,"
said the leader of the group, Ali al-Sayyad al-Harithi.

He said he had received explosive-making training in Iraq
but that he had left after he said that John Kerry, the
Democratic candidate in the 2004 U.S. presidential election,
had threatened Yemen. "I wanted to defend my country," he

The trial was adjourned to Wednesday, March 1.

The defendants were among a group of 19 men arrested by
Yemeni security forces last month on suspicion of planning
attacks against Western interests. Two of the men were released
due to lack of evidence, security sources said.

Yemen, the ancestral home of Saudi-born al Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden, joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the
September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

The impoverished country has cracked down on al
Qaeda-linked militants following attacks at home, but some
ordinary Yemenis still support al Qaeda's campaign against the

Earlier this month, 13 al Qaeda detainees tunnelled out of
jail in what analysts said was a major embarrassment and set
back to the government's campaign against the network.

A CIA drone killed Ali al-Harithi, who was a top al Qaeda
operative and a key suspect in the bombing of the U.S. warship
Cole in 2000.