July 3, 2008 (KHARTOUM) — A top member of the Darfur rebel group that staged an unprecedented attack on Khartoum was in court on Thursday for the first time as Sudan stepped up trials of suspects arrested after the strike.
- Abel Aziz Ashr in a picture distributed by the Sudanese security service following his arrest.
Abdel Aziz Ashr, the half-brother of Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) leader Khalil Ibrahim, appeared in North Khartoum court with seven other suspects for the start of a trial that could see him hanged if found guilty.
The suspects, all in civilian clothes, arrived at the heavily guarded courtroom that was also open to the press and lawyers, an AFP reporter said.
Sudan’s attorney general Salah Abu Zeid read out the indictment, accusing the suspects under criminal law and anti-terrorism legislation of orchestrating a terrorist attack on the capital.
Defence lawyer Satie Mohamed al-Haj told AFP after the hearing that the formation of the special court before which his clients had appeared was unconstitutional and did not guarantee their legal rights.
Ashur joined JEM in 2003 and headed its activities in Eritrea until 2005 when Sudanese-Eritrean relations improved after the signing of a peace agreement between north and south Sudan.
On June 18 Sudan put an initial 39 suspects on trial at special courts across the capital in the wake of the rebel attack that killed more than 222 people.
The JEM assault on Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman on May 10 was the first time that decades-old regional unrest in Sudan reached the doorstep of government.
Special forces arrested Ashur on May 21 in New Halfa near the border with Eritrea. He is accused of taking part in the attack.
The United Nations says the death toll from five years of war, famine and disease in Darfur may be up to 300,000. Khartoum puts the toll at 9,000.