Yemeni acquitted of arms smuggling [Archives:2008/1134/Local News]

March 3 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, March 2 ) Two men, Abdi Othman Soli, 28, a Danish citizen of Somali origin, and Abdullah Awadh Al-Masri, 37, a Yemeni national, were found not guilty this week of smuggling weapons to Somalia in 2006. However, the court gave Al-Masri a three-year prison sentence for other charges such as working with and providing shelter for Al-Qaeda operatives and illegal weapons trading.

Among other accusations, the two suspects were tried for smuggling anti-aircraft weapons and sniper rifles into Somalia for the Islamic Court, which was waging a coup at the time. Although Soli confessed to the charges, the court ignored his confession, according to the office of the Attorney General.

Besides Soli and Al-Masri, 12 other men, including four Yemenis and eight Western nationals, were arrested at the same time.

At the time of their arrest, Rashad Al-Alimi, Yemen's Interior Minister, refused to transfer the men to the Guantanamo Bay prison facility and insisted on keeping the suspects in Yemen for trial.

Since the arrest, a German national was released in November 2007 after Yemeni interrogators said he had not been involved in any illegal activities. The other suspects, including three Australians, one British national, one Danish national and one Somali national, stayed in Yemen until they were extradited to their respective countries.

The Australian press reported that eight of the suspects have confessed to involvement in weapons smuggling operations to Somalia and to collecting funds intended to help carry out terrorist attacks.

The three Australians are Abdullah Ayub, 19, Mohammed Ayub, 21, and Marek Samulski, 35. The Ayub brothers are sons of jihadist Abdul Rahim Ayub, an alleged member of a Sydney-based terrorist cell who was arrested last year in Australia.

The Dane is a convert to Islam and had been studying at the Islamic Iman University, which is run by Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al-Zandani. The university denied that any of the suspects were Al-Iman students. The Australian press reported that authorities searched the Danish man's house and discovered Al-Qaeda-linked documents and thousands of dollars and Euros.

In 2006, a Danish Foreign Ministry official confirmed the arrest of a Danish national in conjunction with this investigation, but refused to identify him. The Danish media reported that the suspect is a 23-year-old man who converted to Islam and moved to Yemen two years ago with his wife and child.

Press reports also mentioned that another of the arrested men, Ibrahim Abdullah Al-Sinhi (sometimes known as Abu Dujana Al-Misiki), admitted that he'd been assigned to carry out a terrorist attack using an explosives-laden car at Sana'a International Airport.

Because of Yemen's close proximity and plethora of available weaponry, Yemen became a hub for illegal weapon sales to Somalia through smugglers and radicals.

Somali websites posted stories around the time of the arrests that Yemen sent “military supplies, including sophisticated tanks” and assorted heavy and light artillery to the Baidoa airport.

In 2006, a source from inside the Yemeni government said that Yemen did not send weapons of any kind to Somalia. The source, who wished to remain anonymous, denied the validity of the Somali reports circulating on a few ads, calling them “groundless.”

The source pointed out that Yemen has been in constant contact with both factions) the interim Somali government based in Baidoa, and the leaders of Somalia's Islamic Courts Union, which currently controls Mogadishu)to persuade them to negotiate.

This is not the first time that Yemen has been blamed for providing Somalia with weapons. In October 2005, Somali factions accused Yemen, Ethiopia and Eritrea of smuggling weapons to the former Islamic government in Somalia.

Yemen said at the time that it sold weapons – legally – to the then-recognized Somali government. Yemen denied that there had been any illegal weapons smuggling to Somalia, and that it had provided 5,000 pieces of small arms to the interim government.

Judge Mohammed Al-Hakimi oversaw the case, which appeared in the appellate court of first instance in Sana'a.