Yemen jails 32 militants in al Qaeda oil attacks

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SANAA, Nov 7 (Reuters) A Yemeni court sentenced 32 militants today to terms of between 2 and 15 years over al Qaeda attacks on oil and gas facilities last year.

The prosecution said it planned an appeal to seek harsher punishment.

''The penalties do not correspond to the crimes the convicts have committed,'' said prosecutor Khaled al-Maouri.

The court, which tries state security cases, also acquitted four of the 36 suspects who were charged in March with ''forming an armed gang aimed at carrying out sabotage attacks'' and involvement in the attacks on the installations in the Marib and Hadaramout provinces.

Six of the militants were charged in absentia, including three al Qaeda members who had fled from a Sanaa prison in February 2006.

Some of the convicts described the ruling as ''unfair'' while others prostrated themselves -- a sign of gratitude to God -- after the sentences were read.

Yemen foiled two attempted suicide attacks on September 15, days after al Qaeda urged Muslims to target Western interests, especially oil installations. Al Qaeda's wing in Yemen later claimed responsibility for the attacks and vowed more stri strikes in the Arab state.

Four bombers were killed when security forces blew up four rigged cars before they reached their targets. A guard working for an oil firm was killed. There was no damage to the state-owned facilities.

In a March hearing, the suspects pleaded not guilty to the charges, and six of them said that they were tortured in custody and forced to sign confessions.

Yemen, a minor oil producer, is the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It joined the US-led war on terrorism launched after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 and has been battling Islamic militants for years.

The September 2006 attacks were the first on oil industry targets in Yemen since the 2002 bombing of the French oil supertanker Limburg off its coast. In 2000, a suicide attack on the US warship Cole killed 17 US sailors.

Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has been widely seen in the West as a haven for Muslim militants, including al Qaeda supporters.

REUTERS PD RAI1640

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