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Yemen court condemns seven Shiite rebels to death

A Yemeni court on Monday sentenced seven Shiite rebels to death for their role in a series of gunbattles against the security forces near the capital last year that left hundreds of people dead or wounded.

world Updated: Jul 06, 2009 17:12 IST

A Yemeni court on Monday sentenced seven Shiite rebels to death for their role in a series of gunbattles against the security forces near the capital last year that left hundreds of people dead or wounded.

The court convicted the seven of "belonging to an armed gang in 2008 to carry out a collective criminal project". It sentenced seven other defendants to jail terms of between 12 and 15 years.

"Death to America and death to Israel," the defendants cried out from the dock after the sentences were announced. They are all expected to appeal.

A total of 190 suspected rebels are being tried in batches over the deadly fighting with the security forces that raged in Bani Hoshaish, northeast of the capital Sanaa, between March and June last year.

The rebels, whose stronghold is in Saada in the far northern mountains, want to restore the Zaidi imamate that was overthrown in a republican coup in 1962.

The insurgents are known as Huthis after their late commander, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Huthi, who was killed by the army in September 2004. Hussein was succeeded as field commander by his brother Abdul Malak. An offshoot of Shiite Islam, Zaidis are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen but form the majority in the north.

The government has accused the Zaidi rebels of kidnapping nine foreigners and killing three of them last month, a charge vehemently denied by the group. The authorities say the other six hostages may still be alive and that an intense search is underway for them.

One of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen is also battling unrest in the south, where separatist sentiment runs deep almost two decades after unification with the north.

At least 18 people were killed in clashes that pitted demonstrators against police in the impoverished south from late April until early June.

The ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Yemen has also seen a string of attacks on foreign targets, oil facilities and government buildings claimed by Al-Qaeda loyalists.

Four South Korean tourists and their Yemeni guide were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself in the historic eastern city of Shibam on March 15. The attack was claimed by Al-Qaeda.