A Khartoum court condemned four Islamists to death on Wednesday for the 2008 killing of a United States diplomat and his Sudanese driver, as the US embassy warned of possible retaliation over the verdict.
Judge Said Ahmed al-Badri sentenced the four to be hanged for the murders.
A fifth man, who had provided the other defendants with the weapon but did not take part in the murder, was sentenced to two years in prison.
John Granville (33), who worked for the US Agency for International Development (USAid), and his 40-year-old Sudanese driver Abdel Rahman Abbas were shot dead in their car in Khartoum on January 1 2008.
”God is Great! Long live Justice!” cried the sister of one defendant when the verdict was announced.
The four men, who remained silent inside the courtroom, shouted Allahu Akbar (God is great) as they were escorted out by police.
Just before the sentence was read out and in line with Islamic law, the judge asked the driver’s family whether they forgave the defendants, sought compensation from them, or wanted to see the death penalty enforced.
They opted for the latter.
”Sudanese law does not provide for” a life sentence for murder, said Granville’s mother, Jane Granville, in a statement.
”Thus, it is with a heavy heart that I have to conclude that I am left with no other option. The death penalty is the only sentence that will protect others from those who took my beloved son’s life.”
One of the four condemned men is the son of a leader of pacifist Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna, which is linked to Wahhabism — a hardline form of Sunni Islam practised mainly in Saudi Arabia — but is not involved in politics.
A group calling itself Ansar al-Tawhid had claimed the New Year’s Day murder according to Site, a US-based organisation which monitors Islamist websites.
It said the murder was in response to attempts to raise the banner of Christianity over Sudan, the largest country in Africa.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officers from the US had helped to investigate the killings which sent shockwaves through the sizeable Western community in Khartoum, a city usually considered one of the safest in Africa.
The US embassy in Khartoum had urged personnel and citizens to keep a low profile if the court found the defendants guilty.
”Should the court announce guilty verdicts in this case on June 24, the reaction among the men’s supporters could include demonstrations at Embassy Khartoum facilities and/or other anti-American, anti-Western actions,” it warned in a statement.
The British embassy also advised its staff to ”keep a low profile, avoid any demonstrations, and exercise caution and vigilance, particularly today [Wednesday] and Friday afternoon.”
Last week, Sudanese authorities killed a man close to the defendants. The US embassy warned of a backlash.
”This warden message alerts US citizens that statements threatening violent action against the government of Sudan have been posted on a jihadist website, following the death of a suspected Islamic extremist.
”The US embassy is concerned that there may be calls for violent action against the government of Sudan and/or Western interests during Friday prayers on June 26.
”For this reason, all US embassy personnel have been directed not to travel within Khartoum from 12 pm to 6 pm on this day.”
Relations between Sudan and the United States have long been strained, most recently over the six-year conflict in the western region of Darfur over which Washington has accused Khartoum of genocide.
USAid is the leading international donor to Sudan and has since 2004 contributed more than $2-billion for humanitarian programmes in the country, including Darfur, and to refugees in eastern Chad across the border. — Sapa-AFP