SANAA (AFP) – A Yemeni court on Monday condemned an Islamist to death for establishing contact with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and offering to collaborate with the Jewish state.
Bassam al-Haidari, 26, was found guilty of writing directly to the prime minister of Israel by email, offering to work for the Jewish state — which has no diplomatic ties with Yemen.
Another defendant Imad al-Rimi, 23, was sentenced to five years in prison and Ali al-Mahfal, 24, to three.
“The court… sentences the first defendant to death in the case of making illegal contact with the Zionist Jewish Israeli entity,” judge Hassan Elwan said.
“This is unfair, you have sentenced me without any proof of these accusations,” Mahfal shouted from the caged dock.
The defendants said they wanted to appeal.
The three men went on trial in January, accused of operating under the name of the little-known Organisation of Islamic Jihad and spreading false news of attacks on government buildings, embassies and foreign interests in Yemen in 2008.
The prosecution charged Haidari with corresponding with Olmert through emails, one of which said: “We are the Organisation of Islamic Jihad and you are Jews, but you are honest, and we are ready to do anything.”
The charge sheet said Olmert responded to Haidari, also known as Abu al-Ghaith, welcoming his offer to collaborate.
“We are ready to support you to become an obstacle in the Middle East. We will support you as an agent,” Olmert was quoted as writing.
The group also claimed in Internet messages signed by Abu al-Gaith that it prepared 16 car bombs to attack government buildings and embassies, according to the prosecution.
Yemeni authorities rounded up six suspects in the capital Sanaa shortly after a September 17 attack on the US embassy that killed 19 people.
The interior ministry said at the time that the arrested group included Abu al-Ghaith al-Yamani, the signatory of an Islamic Jihad claim of responsibility for the attack on the US mission.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh later that an Islamist “terrorist cell” with links to Israeli intelligence had been dismantled.
The impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, awash with weapons, is the ancestral home of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, whose militant group has waged a number of attacks — most notably the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden that killed 17 sailors.
It is also home to a tiny Jewish minority of about 400 people.