The long delayed trial of six men accused of involvement in a suicide attack which killed 17 American sailors and almost sank a billion-dollar guided-missile destroyer opened in Yemen on Wednesday.
The USS Cole was refuelling in Aden harbor on Oct. 12, 2000 when two men sailed an explosives-laden dinghy alongside it and blew themselves up, blasting a 12-meter hole in the warship.
In court yesterday, six suspects were formally charged with planning the attack, belonging to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, forming an armed group and carrying out various criminal acts.
One of the six, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- also known as Mohammed Omer al-Harazi -- was charged in his absence because he is held by the US at an undisclosed location.
Nashiri, described as the mastermind of the attack, left Yemen a few days before the explosion and disappeared.
He was eventually captured in the United Arab Emirates two years later.
He is the cousin of a suicide bomber who blew up the American embassy in Nairobi in 1998, according to the US.
Yemen also says he was an organizer of a foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up the US embassy in India in 2001.
The other five suspects appeared in court yesterday bearded and wearing blue overalls. They included Jamal al-Badawi, who is said to have received instructions for the bombing from Nashiri, and Fahd al-Qusaa, who allegedly bought the dinghy along with a video camera to film the attack.
Representatives of the FBI and US justice department attended the hearing, which was held amid tight security in the capital, Sana'a.
The trial was delayed because of American complaints that more time was needed to compile evidence, with the result that suspects were detained beyond Yemen's legal time limit
Yemen is asking the US to hand over Nashiri but there is as of yet no sign that the US will agree.
Badawi and Qusaa were among a group of suspects who escaped from jail in Yemen last year. They were rearrested in March.
Yemen, the ancestral home of Bin Laden, became a popular refuge for jihadis from Afghanistan during the 1990s.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks the government of President Ali Abdullah Salih has cooperated with the US in tracking down al-Qaeda suspects.
But the campaign has resulted in large numbers of people being imprisoned without charge or trial, according to human rights organizations.
Partly in response to these complaints, Yemen has begun a limited release of detainees under a program of Islamic "re-education."
Closer relations with the US have caused some problems for the government -- most recently owing to the emergence of an organization called Believing Youth, whose members disrupt mosques with cries of "Death to America! Death to Israel."
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