Fugitive walks into court, declares his innocence [Archives:2008/1132/Front Page]

February 25 2008

Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, Feb 24 ) Jaber Al-Banna, a Yemeni-American who is among the FBI's most wanted terrorism suspects, showed up in a Yemeni court Saturday and then walked free, surprising the attendees, an eyewitness said.

“During the trial a man approached the judge and introduced himself as Jaber Al-Banna, giving his ID card to the judge, who was completely surprised. The bearded man talked to the judge, saying he was one of twenty three suspects that escaped the political prison in 2006. He added that he had 'done nothing either here in Yemen, nor in the United States… I surrender my self to the Yemeni president' before he left the courtroom on foot. No one prevented him from leaving,” said the eyewitness.

Al-Banna's appearance on Saturday was in the appeal court which began to hear the appeals of 36 Yemenis sentenced to jail last year for planning and carrying out attacks for Al-Qaeda, and being connected to a series of attacks on oil facilities.

The men were sentenced last November to jail terms of between two and 15 years after they were convicted over an abortive twin attack on oil facilities in September 2006, one on an oil refinery at Marib, and the other on petrol storage tanks at a terminal operated by Canadian firm Nexen in the southeastern Hadramout province at the same time. Al-Banna was charged in absentia with masterminding the plot, as were several of the escapees.

The 41 year-old man is a former resident of Lackawanna, N.Y. He left the United States in spring 2001 as part of a larger group that authorities said traveled to Osama bin Laden's al-Farooq training camp in Afghanistan.

In May 2003, U.S. prosecutors charged Al-Banna in absentia with conspiring with a group known as the “Lackawanna Six” to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

The U.S. asked Yemen to hand over Al-Banna, and while he was subsequently arrested by authorities in January 2004, Yemen refused to extradite Al-Banna'a to the U.S. after his surrender. Al-Banna is wanted by the United States over charges of “providing material support to terrorists.”

In February 2006 Al-Banna and 22 other prisoners broke out of a Yemeni jail by digging a tunnel to a nearby mosque.

The U.S. is offering up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

In November 2007 Al-Banna was convicted of the terror attacks and sentenced to ten years in absentia.

Speculations mentioned that the Yemeni Government and jihadists, including a number of Al-Qaeda fighters, reached a deal in which the jihadists can be released from jail if they do not carry out any terrorist activities inside Yemen.

Yemen and the United States have previously exchanged accusations over Jamal al-Badawi, an Al-Qaeda fighter convicted of involvement in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the southern port of Aden, which killed 17 American sailors. He was reported temporarily released by the Yemeni authorities, which caused the U.S. to suspend signing a 20.6 million dollar aid package for Yemen on October 2007.

Yemen in return denied the release of Al-Badawi.