Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – In its first public session, the Saudi Arabian Special Criminal Court, which specializes in terrorism cases, began the trial of a terrorist cell consisting of 11 members, who are accused of conspiring with the perpetrators of the terrorist attack which took place in the city of Yanbu on 1 May 2004, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries. This represents the first time in the history of the Saudi Arabian Special Criminal Court that a trial has been covered openly by the media.
The Yanbu massacre took place on 1 May 2004, and saw 4 militants of the “Yanbu cell” storm the offices of the Texas-based ABB Lumus Global Inc, opening fire on workers indiscriminately. This attack and the ensuing police chase through the city resulted in the death of one Saudi Arabian security officer and 6 foreign nationals, namely two Americans, two Britons, one Australian and one Canadian, as well as the injury of more than 25 Saudi nationals. The 4 gunmen were killed during the attack.
Riyadh is accusing the 11 defendants of providing material support to the perpetrators of the Yanbu massacre, and the legally obtained confession of the defendants indicates that the “masterminds” behind the Yanbu attacks were none other than Saad al-Faqih and Mohammad al-Massari, Saudi dissidents living abroad in London.
The Special Criminal Court judge allowed Saudi Arabian media, including Asharq Al-Awsat, to attend the first session of the trial of the 11-member terrorist cell. The 11 defendants arrived half an hour early for the first public session of their trial, which began at 10:10 am. 6 of the defendants sat in the first row of the court-room, facing a panel of 3 judges, with the remaining 5 defendants sitting in the second row.
The 11 defendants were clearly in good health, although 2 of the defendants did show signs of suffering from the flu; all defendants were dressed in white robes and wearing the traditional Saudi Arabian keffiyah.
A representative of the Saudi Arabian Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution, sitting to the left of the judges, read out the numerous charges against the 11 defendants, and revealed that the prosecution would be seeking the death penalty if they were found guilty. The prosecution’s statement lasted 90 minutes.
The main charge against the 11 defendants is that of “forming a terrorist cell to plan the implementation of terrorist crimes, which would serve the objectives of Al Qaeda organization in the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia].” In addition to this, the prosecution accused the 11 defendants of “planning, preparing, and supporting the execution of the crime of the terrorist attack against innocent people… [in addition to] terrorizing citizens and expatriates by firing their machine guns at security guards and pedestrians, commandeering vehicles at gunpoint, and using them [the vehicles] to continue targeting and firing upon locations where civilians assembled.”
The 11 defendants were also accused of money laundering, the possession of illegal weapons, and harming the national security of Saudi Arabia.
The general prosecutor in the Yanbu massacre case also made reference to the “terrorism” witnessed by Saudi Arabia over the years, which has resulted in over 145 deaths and more than 674 injuries. The prosecution stressed that former Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was the major catalyst behind the majority of these terrorist crimes in Saudi Arabia. He also acknowledged that the majority of Al Qaeda “sleeper cells” have historically been uncovered in Riyadh and Mecca, due to the large number of Riyadh and Mecca residents who fought in Afghanistan and then returned home.
7 of the 11 defendants are said to be members of the same family, whilst the remaining 4 members of the Yanbu terrorist cell are unrelated. All of the defendants are Saudi nationals; 5 of whom have university degrees, 5 others have high school diplomas, whilst the final defendant is a graduate of a technical college.
According to the legally certified confession obtained from the accused, the Yanbu massacre had been carried out “in retaliation for the people of Fallujah in Iraq, against the Americans and the infidels.”
10 of the 11 defendants agreed to issue a written plea and defense against the charges issued against them, however the 11th defendant agreed to respond immediately to the charges laid against him, categorically denying them.
The prosecution read out the list of charges against the 11 defendants, with the primary suspect in this case being accused of 14 separate charges, including coordinating and planning the Yanbu massacre, and providing and manufacturing explosive materials. The 11 defendants were also accused of inciting a rebellion inside the prison where they are being held, as well as inciting against prison guards, including takfir [accusing them of apostasy], breaking windows, and refusing to follow the prison rules and regulations.
The public prosecutor told the court that what the Yanbu terrorist cell had done represented “the worst type of corruption” and called on the judges to sentence them to death.
As mentioned previously, one of the defendants asked to be allowed to respond to the charges made against him immediately. The defendant, a former imam who worked for the Saudi Arabian Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice [CPVPV] comprehensively denied being a member of the terrorist “Yanba cell.” As for his connection to the Yanbu massacre’s mastermind Mustafa al-Ansari, who was killed during the attack, the defendant claimed that his connection to him could be explained by the fact that the two men were former colleagues who lived in the same neighborhood, and he comprehensively denied knowing that al-Ansari was wanted by the security authorities.
In response to accusations that he went to fight in Iraq without the permission of the state, the defendant said that some religious scholars at the time claimed that the state wanted to see the Americans defeated in Iraq, but from a political standpoint could not authorize anybody to go [to fight], and therefore he had the implicit permission of the state [to travel to fight in Iraq].
As for the electronic hard-drives seized by the authorities, which included information about Al Qaeda, the defendant said that he was merely interested in this issue as part of his job as a mosque imam, stressing that he was merely following the events in Iraq and other countries.
However in response to this, the general prosecutor stressed that the prosecution was certain that the defendant had accessed blocked websites affiliated to Al Qaeda, in order to follow up Al Qaeda operations related to the Yanbu massacre “mastermind” Mustafa al-Ansari, which contradicts his claims that he was not aware that al-Ansari was wanted by the Saudi authorities. In addition to this, the Saudi prosecution said that the defendant’s testimony contradicted other legally certified confessions.
The terrorist who planned and carried out the Yanbu massacre, Mustafa al-Ansari was killed during this operation, along with three others. According to the authenticated confessions of the 11 defendants, Mustafa al-Ansari first left Saudi Arabia to join the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in 1992. He stayed in Afghanistan for one year before returning to Saudi Arabia. He later traveled to Britain, and then Somalia, where he married. He remained in Somalia for 6 months before once again returning to Saudi Arabia in 1998, under a forged Somali passport. He lived in Saudi Arabia for one month before travelling to Yemen, where he remained for 5 years. He then returned to Saudi Arabia once again, this time illegally crossing the border. The 11 defendants also acknowledged that Al-Ansari had contacts with Saudi dissidents in London, Saad al-Faqih and Mohamed al-Massari, although they had no proof that he was in contact with or affiliated to Al Qaeda.
The Saudi Arabian Special Criminal Court judge set the next session of the Yanbu terrorist cell trial to take place on 12 June, during which the defendants will respond to the charges made against them.