A court in Yemen has sentenced one man to death and 14 others to prison terms for a series of attacks and terrorist plots, including one to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to Yemen. Five of the 15 defendants are reportedly members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.
Five of the militants were sentenced to 10-year terms for the 2002 bombing of the French oil tanker Limburg, while another nine Yemenis received three to 10-year sentences for plans to kill the U.S. ambassador and to carry out attacks against the embassies of the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Canada.
One militant, convicted of killing a Yemeni soldier as well as of the conspiracy charges, was sentenced to death.
According to the editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Arab News, Khaled Al Maeena, the convictions are part of a tough stance Yemen has decided to adopt, in hopes of pre-empting the sort of terrorist attacks that have plagued its neighbor, Saudi Arabia.
"The Yemeni government and other governments in the area are preoccupied with security," he explained. "They are relentless in their pursuit of terrorists, and they are looking at ways and means to eradicate this evil. The security forces in the region and in Yemen, as we have noticed in the past few weeks, are in an offensive mode."
The Limburg supertanker was attacked in 2002, in a bombing that caused the death of one crew member and the spilling of 90,000 barrels of Saudi oil into the Gulf of Aden.
The suspected planner of the attack, an al-Qaida leader named Ali al-Harthi, was killed by a CIA missile later that year. Mr. al-Harthi was also suspected of being behind the 2000 bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in the Aden harbor, in which 17 American sailors were killed.
It was allegedly in retaliation for Mr. al-Harthi's death that the Yemeni militants planned their attacks on Western embassies and diplomats.
But while Yemenis are incensed by the war in Iraq and the situation in Israeli-occupied territories, they are generally opposed to terrorism, says Mr. Al Maeena, who also notes that Yemen has a growing tourism industry and is embarking on several economic development programs. He believes Yemen will be able to rein in any militant groups in the country.
"It will not escalate," continued Khaled Al Maeena. "As I said, the Yemeni forces are in an offensive mode. By and large, the Yemeni people are peaceful people. On the whole, the Yemeni people and the Yemeni nation would reject terror. Anything that destroys the image of the country, anything that stops the march of economic progress, is not to be entertained."