Yemen puts militant on trial over bomb plot

YEMEN, under intense US pressure to crack down on al-Qa’ida, put an American-born radical cleric on trial in absentia yesterday.

He was charged with plotting to kill foreigners and being a member of the terrorist group. It was Yemen’s first formal legal action against Anwar al-Awlaki, one of three men charged.

Yemen has come under intense pressure to act on militants after the interception of two mail-bombs in Dubai and Britain last week. The US suspects that al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s network, was behind the plot.

Awlaki, 39, was born in New Mexico and is based in Yemen. US investigators say emails link him to Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist accused of last year’s shooting spree at the Fort Hood, Texas military base that killed 13 people. They also allege he helped prepare Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for the attempt to bomb an airliner over Detroit last Christmas and link him to the failed bombing in New York City’s Times Square in May.

Awlaki’s English-language sermons advocate jihad, or holy war, and have inspired a number of Western-born militants. The US has him on a list of militants it wants killed or captured.

US officials have said they would like to prosecute Awlaki on American soil, particularly if they can get a plea and co-operation deal from the failed Christmas bombing suspect Abdulmutallab, but no decision has been made.

Yemen’s decision to try Awlaki in absentia is not likely to affect any US decision on bringing charges.  Also yesterday, suspected al-Qa’ida militants sabotaged an oil pipeline in the southern Yemen province of Shabwa.

“Unknown militants placed a roadside bomb under the pipeline” in the town of al-Shubaykah, 12km east of the provincial capital, Ataq, a security official said.

The attack carries the “fingerprints of al-Qa’ida”, he said.

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