Yemen jails three Qaeda members for plot to kill president

SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni court sentenced three al Qaeda members to jail on Sunday for plotting to kill President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and target foreign diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador to Sanaa.

Yemen is battling one of the most active franchises of al Qaeda, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has carried out a number of foiled attempts to attack U.S. targets, including airliners.

The Sanaa court of first instance sentenced Abdullah al-Kheishani to seven years in prison, Maher al-Ramim to five years and Omar al-Najjar to one year, state news agency Saba said.

The public prosecution had accused Kheishani and Ramim of monitoring, planning and preparing for the assassination of Hadi outside his residence using booby-trapped vehicles, it said.

Hadi was elected in February 2011 after his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh was eased from power as part of a U.S.-backed power transfer deal which came after months of popular protests that brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Saba said Kheishani and Najjar were also found guilty of planning and preparing to target military officers and the U.S. ambassador to Sanaa.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula last year offered a reward of 3 kg of gold for the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa or 5 million rials for an American soldier in Yemen.

In Libya, U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi last year when dozens of Islamist gunmen attacked a U.S. diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA annex.

The Sanaa court ordered a fourth member of the militant network, accused of involvement in the plot, to be released because he had already served time in prison, Saba reported.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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