A Yemeni appeals court on Sunday affirmed death sentences for four al-Qaeda militants and overturned death verdicts against two other members of a group convicted of carrying out attacks on foreign targets, including one in which two Belgian tourists were killed in 2008.
The 16 men -- 11 Yemenis, four Syrians and a Yemeni with Saudi nationality -- were convicted by a state security court in July 2009 of involvement in a string of attacks in the country in 2007 and 2008.
The presiding judge of the state security court of appeals in Sana’a Mohammad al-Hakimi said the court endorsed the initial death sentences against Yemenis Rawi al-Saia’ari, Sultan al-Saia’ari, Saeed Sankar and Ali al-Akbari.
The court reversed the death sentences handed down to Haitham bin Saeed and Khaled Ba-Taisto to 12 years in prison, he said.
The group was convicted of carrying out an attack on Belgian tourists in the south-eastern province of Hadhramout in January 2008.
The defendants rejected the charges during the trial, with some saying they had confessed under duress and torture.
Two female Belgian tourists and three Yemeni drivers were killed in the attack when gunmen opened fire on their convoy near a historical site in Dowan valley, around 900 kilometres from the capital Sana’a. Another tourist was injured.
The court also reserved the jail terms for four Syrian members of the group from 15 to 10 years each. It ordered them to be deported to their country after they serve the jail terms.
Two other Yemenis initially sentenced to 12 years in jail, had their terms reduced to ten years by the appeals court on Sunday.
Al-Hakimi said the court rejected the appeal lodged by the convict Abdullah Ali Ba-Wazir, a Saudi man of Yemeni origin. He was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The group was also convicted of carrying out a mortar attack in March 2008 that targeted the US embassy in Sana’a but missed and instead hit an adjacent school, injuring three police officers and four girls.
Prosecutors said the group was also responsible for a mortar attack that targeted a residential compound housing US and Western citizens on April 6, 2008. No one was hurt in that attack.
The group had also fired two mortar shells at the Italian embassy on April 30, 2008 again without casualties, according to the charges.
The most recent attack blamed on the group was the suicide car bombing at the police complex in Sayoun city of Hadhramout in July 2008 that killed two policemen and wounded 18, including seven women.
Prosecutors have told the court that police had seized explosives and ammunition from the suspects, including 25 rockets, 43 bags of gun powder, six artillery shells, 13 mortar shells, two explosive vests.
They said the group acted under the instructions of the leading member of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Hamza al-Quaiti, who was shot dead in a police raid in Hadhramout last August.
Yemen allied itself with the US-led “war on terror” following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.