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Yemen upholds death sentences in US Embassy attack

SAN’A, Yemen — A Yemeni appeals court upheld on Sunday the death sentences against four al-Qaida militants in deadly attacks that included the assault on the U.S. Embassy and the killing of two Belgian tourists in 2008, a court official said.

The four were convicted last year as part of an al-Qaida cell behind the March 2008 attack on the embassy that killed a school guard in an adjacent building. The men were also convicted of killing two Belgian women tourists in January 2008.

The official said the appeals court on Sunday overturned the death sentences of two other militants from the same cell who were convicted of attacks on police in southern Hadramut province and sentenced them to 12 years each instead.

Yemen, an impoverished country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, has struggled to confront a growing al-Qaida presence.

The al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen got a boost in 2009, when the organization merged with the Saudi branch and dramatically increased the pace of its attacks. Militants are believed to have built up strongholds in remote parts of the country, allying with powerful tribes that resent the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Besides the cases of the six militants, the court in San’a on Sunday also upheld sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment against 10 other militants, including four Syrians and a Saudi man, for masterminding the attacks. The cell was also accused of waging successive attacks on police and oil installations.

The court official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.