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'Terrorist' verdict delayed

'Terrorist' verdict delayed


Supporters of the three 'JI' convicts free sparrows at the US embassy.

T he Appeal Court announced on September 18 that the verdict for three men convicted of planning to bomb the British and US embassies in Phnom Penh, and linked with terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), would be delayed until September 29.

After three hours of questioning, presiding judge Thou Mony said the appellate officials needed more time to review court documents and that the arrival of the Pchum Ben holiday would force the verdict to be postponed.

Families and supporters of the men, who were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2004, released sparrows in front of the US Embassy on the day of the hearing, urging the embassy to intervene to have the men freed.

Math Yusos, uncle of convicted ethnic Cham Sman Esma El, said his family does not believe Esma El was ever involved with the JI as the prosecution alleged. He said the decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court was based solely on reports by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Thai Muslims Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 40, and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 44, as well as Cambodian Sman Esma El, 32, were arrested in May 2003, and found guilty of conspiring to commit terrorism and plotting to bomb the British and US embassies, after a one day trial on December 28, 2004, at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. A fourth accused, Egyptian Esam Mohamid Khadr Ali, was freed and five others sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia.

Esma El told the Appeal Court that he was not aware of any plot to bomb the embassies and that FBI officials met him in prison and showed him photos of suspects, but he was not among them.

Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading told the court that they entered Cambodia only to work as teachers at the Saudi-funded Om Alqura Institute. They said the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced them without specific evidence.

Only the wives of the two Thai nationals, relatives of Esma El and a defense lawyer were present at the trial. Neither the chief witness nor US Embassy officials appeared at the court proceedings.

Defense lawyer Kao Soupha says his clients are innocent.

"The FBI report does not [offer] proof that my clients are guilty," Soupha said. "If the Appeal Court decision is fair, my clients will be released."


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