SAN'A, Yemen – Eight suspected Al Qaeda members, including an Iraqi with Swiss nationality, admitted in court Monday to planning attacks on Western embassies here, while six convicted terrorists were sentenced to two years in jail in another case.
The trials were the latest in a series of Yemeni cases involving the terror network of Usama bin Laden, who has ancestral ties to this tribal-dominated Arabian Peninsula country that has long been a haven for Islamic extremists.
The eight suspected Al Qaeda members told the court on the opening day of their trial Monday that they had planned to attack the British and Italian embassies and the French Cultural Center in the Yemeni capital and that they received money and instructions from Al Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia. They face five to 10 yeas in jail if convicted.
The suspects, including five Yemenis, Iraqi-born Swiss national Anwar Bayan Sadiq al-Gaylani (search) and Syrians Omran Mohammed Said (search) and Majid Omar Nizan (search), were detained during recent months in a crackdown on terrorism by Yemeni authorities.
The eight are among 13 suspected Al Qaeda members detained recently. Five were released, including a Yemeni woman, for lack of evidence. Police found hand grenades, military fatigues and documents showing sketches of the sites to be attacked.
Al-Gaylani and Said claimed they were beaten and tortured during the investigation, and the court ordered they be examined by doctors. The trial was adjourned to March 28 for defense hearings.
Security forces in armored vehicles and machine gun-toting jeeps blocked streets leading to the court and snipers were posted on rooftops of nearby buildings.
In the other case, six Yemeni Al Qaeda members were each sentenced to two years in jail for planning attacks against Westerners here and in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq. The men are expected to be released soon; they've been in custody since 2003. Five suspects were acquitted.
Two of the men were detained in Yemen while the nine others were extradited from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The defendants denied charges of planning terror attacks and forming an armed gang but admitted to using forged documents that Yemeni authorities said were to be used for traveling to Iraq to fight U.S.-led forces.
Yemen was the scene of 2000 suicide bombing of the destroyer the USS Cole (search) that killed 17 American sailors. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Yemen's government joined the American-led war on terror and cracked down on militants.