SANAA, (AFP) — A court in Yemen, under mounting US pressure to fight Al-Qaeda after a foiled air cargo bomb plot, ordered Saturday the arrest by any means of a US-born cleric for alleged links to the terror group.
Judge Mohsen Alwan called on prosecutors to “forcibly arrest” Anwar al-Awlaqi and a relative, Othman al-Awlaqi, whom a Sanaa court has charged with “incitement to kill foreigners and members of security services.”
Public prosecutor Ali al-Samet told the court the pair had failed to appear for a second time on Saturday before the court that specialises in terrorism cases.
The charges against them arose during the trial of Yemeni Hisham Mohammed Assem, who was in court to face charges of killing French energy contractor Jacques Spagnolo near the capital Sanaa last month.
All three men are accused of “forming an armed gang to carry out criminal acts and to target foreigners and security forces on behalf of Al-Qaeda.”
The prosecution had told the court at Tuesday’s first hearing that the Yemeni-American cleric Awlaqi had corresponded with Assem for months, encouraging him to kill foreigners.
Assem, who had said he was tortured, denied the charges on Saturday, saying he killed the French contractor over a personal feud and not due to incitement by Awlaqi.
The judge also ordered the public prosecutor to provide Anwar and Othman al-Awlaqi with a lawyer. The trial was adjourned until next Tuesday.
Hours after last Tuesday’s hearing, suspected Al-Qaeda militants attacked an oil pipeline run by the Korea National Oil Corp in the southeastern Shabwa province controlled by Awlaqi’s tribe.
The attack came just days after intercepted parcel bombs destined for Chicago synagogues were traced to Yemen, placing it under pressure to crackdown on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in the country.
The parcels containing the powerful explosive PETN hidden in ink toner cartridges were found to have been sent by air freight from Sanaa on commercial airlines.
Washington believes the parcel bombs, uncovered on Thursday in Britain and Dubai en route to the United States, were the work of Saudi militant Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a suspected Al-Qaeda bombmaker.
Awlaqi has not immediately been linked to the parcel bombs, but US officials have long accused him of instigating “terrorism” from Yemen, where he is believed to be hiding in a remote area of Shabwa.
In a May video posted on the Internet, Awlaqi urged all Muslims serving in the US Army to follow the example of Major Nidal Hasan, an army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 comrades at Fort Hood base in Texas last November.
“What Nidal Hasan did was heroic… and I call on all Muslims serving in the US army to follow his path,” Awlaqi said in a video posted on jihadist websites, the US monitoring group SITE reported.
In the video, posted by AQAP, he also defended Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student accused of the botched Christmas Day attack and said Sanaa is collaborating with Washington to attack Yemenis.
US Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan earlier this year accused Awlaqi of instigating “terrorism.”
“Mr. Awlaqi is a problem. He’s clearly a part of Al-Qaeda in (the) Arabian Peninsula. He’s not just a cleric. He is in fact trying to instigate terrorism,” he told CNN.
In April, a US official said the administration of President Barack Obama had authorised the targeted killing of Awlaqi, after US intelligence agencies concluded the cleric was directly involved in anti-US plots.
In July, Washington placed Awlaqi on its list of terrorism supporters, freezing his financial assets and banning any transactions with him.