A court in Yemen sentenced two men to death and four others to prison terms Wednesday for their roles in the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000, which killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured more than 40.
The six -- five Yemenis and a Saudi -- were charged with organizing the attack on the Norfolk-based guided missile destroyer and helping the two suicide bombers carry it out. U.S. officials say the attack was directed by Osama bin Laden; Yemeni authorities said the men belonged to bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Sentenced to death were Abd Rahim Nashiri, a Saudi who allegedly headed al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf region and who is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location, and Jamal Badawi, 35, a Yemeni who was accused of serving as a top al Qaeda organizer in Yemen. Nashiri, who was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and allegedly served as the field commander for the Cole bombing, was tried in absentia in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.
The other men convicted in the case received sentences ranging from five to 10 years. Fahd Quso, who was to have filmed the attack from an apartment in the port of Aden but failed to show up on time, was sentenced to 10 years. Maamoun Msouh received an eight-year sentence for assisting Badawi and delivering money that was used in the plot. Ali Mohamed Saleh and Murad Sirouri, both former Information Ministry employees, were each sentenced to five years for forging identification papers for one of the suicide bombers.
All six defendants were also convicted of forming an armed cell to carry out terrorist attacks and of possessing illegal weapons.
The U.S. government welcomed the verdict.
"The United States believes terrorists should be brought to justice for their crimes, and we are therefore pleased that the USS Cole bombers are facing the rule of law," said Kurtis Cooper, a State Department spokesman.
The Cole was attacked during a refueling stop by two Yemenis who piloted a boat filled with about 500 pounds of explosives. The suicide bombers made friendly gestures to crew members and then pulled alongside the Cole and detonated the explosives, blasting a 40-foot-wide hole in the ship's hull.
Upon hearing the sentence Wednesday from the judge, Najib Qaderi, the defendants shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," news agencies reported.
From behind the bars of a courtroom cell, Badawi screamed, "This is an unjust verdict, this is an American verdict," the Reuters news agency reported.
"There are no human rights in the world, except for the Americans," the Associated Press quoted Badawi as yelling. "All the Muslims in the world are being used to serve American interests."
There was no immediate word from the U.S. government on whether Nashiri would be turned over to Yemeni authorities. Cooper confirmed that Nashiri was in U.S. custody.
The United States reportedly refused an earlier request to send Nashiri to Yemen to stand trial.
In May 2003, the Justice Department announced indictments against Quso and Badawi for the Cole bombing and charged that the two men had also plotted to bomb another U.S. warship, the USS The Sullivans, 10 months earlier. That plot failed when a small boat to be used in the attack sank under the weight of explosives crammed inside it.