KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Five Sudanese men accused of murdering a U.S. aid worker are religious extremists who plotted to attack foreigners at New Year's Eve gatherings, Sudanese prosecutors told a court on Sunday.
The five defendants chanted "God is great" as they walked into the East Khartoum court and were greeted by a crowd of supporters who shouted religious slogans and "Down, down, USA."
All five men wore beards and traditional white gowns, and a Reuters reporter at the court saw two of them spit in the faces of two Western women journalists before walking into the building with iron shackles on their ankles.
John Granville, a 33-year-old officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, was shot dead while returning home from New Year celebrations in Khartoum early on January 1. His driver, Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, 39, was also killed.
Granville was the first U.S. government official to be killed in Khartoum in more than three decades.
Prosecutor Mohamed Al Mustapha Moussa told the court the five men last year rented a property in Atbara, a town north of Khartoum, trained there and bought weapons, including a Kalashnikov, a G3 rifle and pistols, according to a copy of the prosecution's opening statement seen by Reuters.
Later they moved to a house in Omdurman, a Khartoum suburb, where they rented a vehicle and started identifying New Year's Eve celebration venues to attack, the prosecutor said.
On New Year's Eve they drove out but found the venues either empty or too heavily guarded, said the prosecutor.
"The prosecutor said it was then that they decided to drive around and look for victims who were coming out of New Year's celebrations," Adil Abdel Ghani, one of the five's defense lawyers, told Reuters after the 30-minute hearing.
The prosecution said the five men were religious extremists who had been misled by "Satan" into thinking their attack was in line with the teaching of the Koran, and that they chanted religious slogans after killing Granville and Rahama.
The prosecutor asked the judge to find the men guilty of murder under Chapter 130 of Sudanese law, and also asked him to try them under firearms laws, Abdel Ghani told Reuters. The murder charge carries a possible death sentence, he added.
The judge adjourned the case to September 11 to allow Granville's family to appoint a lawyer and to find a larger courtroom, at the request of the defense.
Poverty Causes Terrorism... except, apparently, when being reasonably well-off does:
At an earlier hearing, the defendants were identified as Mohamed Osman Yusuf Mohamed, 29, a former Sudanese army officer, Abdel Raouf Abu Zaid Mohamed, 23, a merchant and son of an Islamic preacher, Mohamed Makkawi Ibrahim Mohamed, also 23, a civil engineering student, Abdel Basit al-Hajj Hassan, 29, a trader and Morad Abdel Rahman, 35, a driver.
Earlier, Sudanese officials assured the media that they're "just lads."
Days after the attack, a previously unknown group calling itself Ansar al-Tawhid (Supporters of Monotheism) in Sudan, posted a message on a website used by militants claiming responsibility for the killings.