KHARTOUM: Four Sudanese Islamists sentenced to hang for the New Year’s Eve murder of a US diplomat and his driver in Khartoum have escaped from prison, a security source said on Friday.
"The four men escaped yesterday (Thursday) from the Kober jail" in northern Khartoum, the source told AFP, on condition of anonymity.
John Granville, 33, worked for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He and his driver, Abdel Rahman Abbas, 40, were shot dead in their car on January 1, 2008 as they returned from a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Sudanese authorities charged five young Islamists with the double murder, of whom four were handed the death penalty.
The other man was sentenced to two years in prison for providing the arms and released in 2009.
Two influential journalists with Al-Intibaha newspaper called earlier this week on President Omar Al-Beshir to give the four men an amnesty, after they had appeals turned town.
In line with Islamic law, the victims’ families were asked in court whether they forgave the defendants, sought compensation from them or wanted to see the death penalty enforced.
The death sentences were first handed down in June but suspended in August after Abbas’s father forgave the men. The convictions were renewed in October when both families formally called for the sentence to be carried out.
"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."
Adil Abdelghani, the Sudanese lawyer for the Granville family, said after news of the escape: "The authorities have assured us they will continue searching for them."
A US embassy spokesman said: "We have read those reports (of the escape) and are reviewing them."
One of the defendants, Mohaned Osman Yusef, shouted after the second sentencing in October: "You cannot kill a Muslim because he killed a Christian."
Yusef, a former military officer, also accused the United States of killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Islamic law condemns murder, regardless of the nationality or religion (of the victim)," the judge countered. Some Muslim scholars say a Muslim can be punished, but not executed, for killing a non-Muslim.
The others on death row were Mohammed Mukawi, Abdelbassit Hajj Al-Hassan and Abdelrauf Abu Zeid Mohammed Hamza.
One of the four is the son of a leader of pacifist Islamist group Ansar Al-Sunna, which is linked to Wahhabism — a hard line 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 murder according to SITE, a US-based organization which monitors Islamist websites.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officers from the United States had helped to investigate the killings, which came amid strains with Khartoum over a government crackdown on a revolt in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Kober prison, built in the 19th century on the banks of the Blue Nile, is used mostly for political prisoners and Darfur rebels.