Awlaki Sentenced in Yemeni Court, In Absentia

| Tue Jan. 18, 2011 2:33 PM EST

The US wants Anwar al-Awlaki dead; Yemen just wants him in jail for a while. In 2010, the Obama administration reportedly authorized the targeted killing of al-Awlaki, whom US officials believe to be linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the failed Christmas Day bombing in 2009. A Yemeni court has taken a different approach: after trying the American-born Al Qaeda propagandist in absentia for the killing of a French engineer, it has sentenced him to ten years in prison, Al Jazeera reports.

Al-Awlaki's sentence followed the Monday sentencing of Hisham Mohammed Assem for the murder of Jacques Spagnolo, a contractor with the Austrian-owned oil and gas firm OMV. Assem killed Spagnolo, who was working as a security guard, during a shooting attack on an OMV compound. Witnesses testified that if Assem not been apprehended his next target would have been the plant manager—an American. 

Assem has said that he killed Spagnolo out of personal animus. And OMV "saw no political background for the action taken by the Yemeni security guard," while the defence ministry said Assem had probably acted for personal reasons. But Awlaki and his cousin, Othman, were charged with inciting Assem to commit the murder. Awlaki's lawyer denies any link between Assem and his clients:

Mohammed al-Saqqaf, a lawyer for both Anwar and Othman, told the court in November that the al-Awlakis had no "connection or contact" with Assem, and that he also did not know where al-Awlaki was.... While both the charges and sentencing for Assem and the two al-Awlakis made no mention of al-Qaeda, they did link the three men to unspecified "terrorist organisations."

It's unclear what evidence the court had explicitly linking Assem to terrorism; his connection to the al-Awlakis seems murky enough. It's certainly worth asking whether the US pressured the Yemeni court to include the al-Awlakis as part of Assem's sentencing.

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