A court in Yemen has sentenced two al-Qaida members to death for the 2000 bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole. The attack killed 17 U.S. sailors. This is the first time anyone has been sentenced to death in Yemen for an act of terrorism.

Jamal al-Badawi and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were sentenced to death Wednesday, as the masterminds of the attack in which a small boat loaded with explosives rammed into the American destroyer in the Gulf of Aden.

Mr. al-Nashiri is currently being held in the United States and was tried in absentia. Four other militants were also found guilty of belonging to al Qaida and carrying out the attack on the USS Cole, and received jail sentences of five to 10 years.

Khaled Al Mahdi is a correspondent for the Arab News newspaper in Sanaa and has been following the trial since it started in early July. He notes that this is the first time a Yemeni court has punished terrorism with the death sentence.

"It's the first convictions in this country in which terrorists were sentenced to death," he said. "Of course this country had long tolerated Muslim extremists, but after the September attacks in the United States in 2001, Yemen has allied itself closely with the United States in the war on terrorism and started a widescale campaign against suspected al- Qaida sympathizers."

Yemen arrested hundreds of suspected al-Qaida members in the months following the September 11 attacks. Last month, a Yemeni court jailed five al-Qaida supporters for 10 years for the 2002 bombing of the French supertanker Limburg, and also handed down sentences against terrorists who had conspired to assassinate the U.S. ambassador and attack several foreign embassies.

Lawyers for the Yemenis convicted in the USS Cole case said they plan to appeal. Mr. Al Mahdi said that the militants' lawyers have protested several aspects of the trial which they said deviated from standard legal proceedings, including the way the arrests were carried out, that the men were detained for three years before charges were brought, and that the prosecution has been unwilling to share all the files of its investigation with the defense.