Yemen lessens sentence for embassy shooter in wake of U.S. terrorism assessment [Archives:2008/1155/Front Page]

May 15 2008

By: Yemen Times Staff
SANA'A, May 14 ) Just a week after the U.S. State Department published its annual assessment of terrorist activity in Yemen, the Sana'a Court of Appeals has lessened the prison sentence for a man convicted of shooting at the U.S. Embassy.

Saleh Al-Ammari, the young man who admitted attacking the U.S. Embassy with a semi-automatic rifle in December 2006, originally was sentenced to five years in prison. On Monday, Judge Mohammed Al-Hakimi lessened his sentence to three years without specifying a reason for the leniency. Al-Ammari had confessed to the shooting, which caused no injuries or fatalities, back in 2007.

Prosecutors told the Associated Press that Al-Ammari carried out the shooting after listening to tapes calling for jihad or holy war against the United States because of its war in Iraq and its support of Israel.

This news comes on the heels of the recently published yearly roundup of terrorism in Yemen. The U.S. State Department called Yemen's efforts to reduce terrorism “mixed” and highlighted the rumored glitch between the two countries: Yemen's treatment of suspected terrorists and former Guantanamo Bay prison detainees.

The Yemeni program uses rehabilitation techniques, including counseling sessions with imams to psychologically and religiously reform prisoners who waged violent jihad. In the report, the United States criticized Yemen for using a surrender program “with lenient requirements” for unapprehended terrorists, as well as its “relatively lax incarceration” of them once they turn themselves over.

The report also questioned the short assessment and rehabilitation periods for returning Guantanamo detainees, which likely is the point of contention between the two countries regarding repatriating more Yemeni inmates held at the U.S. military detainment in Cuba.

While other countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia have repatriated the majority of their Guantanamo prisoners, Yemen and the U.S. have yet to finalize agreements for the remaining Yemeni prisoners, with both sides occasionally blaming the other. Yemenis now make up the largest single nationality of prisoners at the facility, with an estimated 100 Yemeni men still being held there.

Another area of concern in the report was the uncertain recapture of Jamal Al-Badawi, one of the U.S.S. Cole bombers who has escaped from prison twice.

Although the report only concerns 2007, it's now known that other Cole plotters, such as Fahd Al-Quso, have been released. Al-Badawi is thought to be in custody again following a period of suspected release authorized by the Yemeni government.

International media sources report that a former Guantanamo inmate from Kuwait was part of an April 29 suicide bombing in Iraq. Abdullah Saleh Al-Ajmi was repatriated to Kuwait in 2005, where he faced trial, but was acquitted of all charges.

According to accounts from Agence France Presse, Al-Ajmi later traveled to Syria and then ended up in Iraq, where he and two others exploded suicide bombs that killed several people in the city of Mosul.

The U.S. military estimates that foreigners carry out 90 percent of suicide bombings in Iraq, so U.S. authorities are hesitant to return Yemeni Guantanamo prisoners for fear that they'll do exactly what Al-Ajmi did – return to fight in Iraq.

There are no other reports of former Guantanamo detainees returning to Iraq to carry out suicide missions, although many foreign fighters come to Iraq to wage violent jihad against the U.S. presence there.

The terrorism report also mentioned the July 2007 blasts at Marib, which were heard about around the world. Seven Spanish tourists and two Yemenis were killed while visiting the temple of Bilqis, an architectural site popular with visitors.

The report only evaluated terror-related events in 2007, but since January 2008, there have been more killings (two Belgian tourists and two Yemenis at Marib), mortar attacks on the U.S. and Italian Embassies and strikes against other foreign firms such as the Canadian Nexen oil company headquarters and a residential compound housing foreigners in Sana'a.

Lessening Al-Ammari's prison sentence, combined with the release of several men who participated in the U.S.S. Cole bombing, is likely to add further strain to relations between the U.S. and Yemen.