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Updated: November 3, 2010 01:13 IST

Awlaki's trial begins in absentia

Atul Aneja
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This October 2008 file photo shows Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric and recruiter for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen. AP.
This October 2008 file photo shows Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric and recruiter for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen. AP.

US-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was charged in absentia with incitement to kill foreigners at a hearing in the Yemeni capital on Tuesday.

Yemen has charged American-born Islamic cleric Anwar Al Awlaki of incitement and plotting to murder foreigners during a trial in absentia that began on Tuesday in Sanaa.

However, Yemeni authorities have stressed that once captured, they would not handover the cleric to the Americans.

Mr. Al Awlaki was charged after trial opened for 19-year-old Hisham Muhammad Asim, who has been accused for killing a French national and injuring a British citizen during an October 6 attack outside Sanaa.

The prosecutor during the trial sought to link Mr. Asim to the cleric and his cousin Osman Al Awlaki. He said that Mr. Asim had acknowledged that Mr. Al Awlaki had incited him to kill foreigners by passing internet messages. The prosecutor added that Anwar Al Awlaki’s cousin Osman Al- Awlaki had brought the accused in contact with the radical cleric.

Analysts point out that the Americans want to hold on their own trial on Mr. Al-Awlaki who allegedly had a role in influencing three 9/11 suicide bombers and was in e-mail contact with Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people and wounding 30 during a shooting at Fort Hood, a large military installation in the United States.

The cleric’s name has also cropped up in connection with last year’s failed Christmas day plot to blow up a U.S. airliner over Detroit by Nigerian born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

However, Yemeni authorities on Tuesday have pointedly clarified that once he is in their custody, Yemen would not extradite Mr. Al Awlaki to the U.S., the official Saba news agency reported. Yemeni national law prevents handing over nationals to other countries for trial, the report added.

Mr. Al Awlaki’s trial has begun against the backdrop of the parcel bomb terrorist plot which originated in Yemen. According to the daily Yemen Post, Yemeni authorities are now searching for a woman who is suspected of having mailing two parcel bombs, which were later identified and immobilised in Dubai and the East Midlands airport following a Saudi intelligence tip-off. Hanan Al-Samawi, a 22-year old computer science student who had earlier been detained has now been released on bail.

Meanwhile, Yemeni authorities have taken exception to Germany’s decision to ban all cargo and passenger flights from Yemen, calling Berlin’s decision, a form “collective punishment”. In a statement, an unnamed Yemeni government official said that such a "rushed and exaggerated reaction (by Germany) to suspicious packages…serves no one but Al-Qaida terrorists who always sought to ... hurt Yemen's interests, reputation and relations with regional and international friends and partners."

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