|The court ruled that Hisham Mohammed Assem, above, was influenced by al-Awlaki [Reuters]|
Yemen has sentenced in absentia Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born Muslim religious leader, to 10 years in jail in connection with the killing of a French engineer.
A court in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, on Monday sentenced to death another man convicted of the killing, but al-Awlaki, who is wanted dead or alive by the US, is accused of motivating the crime.
Othman al-Awlaki, a relative, was also sentenced in absentia to eight years in jail on charges of aiding Hisham Mohammed Assem, the man convicted of the killing.
“This crime was committed under the incitement of Anwar and Othman al-Awlaki,” the judge said as he read the verdict.
Al-Awlaki, who US investigators say has ties to al-Qaeda, is believed to be hiding in southern Yemen.
The killing occurred in October last year when Jacques Spagnolo, a contractor with Austrian-owned oil and gas firm OMV, was killed in a shooting attack on an OMC compound.
One other person was wounded in the attack.
Assem, who was working as a security guard at the company at the time, was overpowered and arrested.
Eight witnesses testified in court that they saw Assem fire on Spagnolo, with one saying that after the killing, the defendant “went looking for the manager of OMV, an American national, to kill him”.
But Assem has said in previous hearings that he killed the French employee because the latter had slapped and insulted him.
OMV said at the time that it saw “no political background for the action taken by the Yemeni security guard”, while the defence ministry said Assem had probably acted for personal reasons in what was a criminal matter.
Al-Awlaki link denied
Mohammed al-Saqqaf, a lawyer for both Anwar and Othman, told the court in November that the al-Awlakis had no “connection or contact” with Assem, and that he also did not know where al-Awlaki was.
Assem’s lawyer too had denied that his client had been in touch with al-Awlaki.
While both the charges and sentencing for Assem and the two al-Awlakis made no mention of al-Qaeda, they did link the three men to unspecified “terrorist organisations”.
Assem is expected to appeal the sentence.
Last year, the US administration under Barack Obama, the US president, authorised the targeted killing of al-Awlaki.
The US has linked al-Awlaki to a US army major charged with shooting dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009, as well as to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25 that year.