KHARTOUM Five Sudanese men were formally charged on Thursday with murdering a U.S. aid worker and his driver in Khartoum, a crime that carries the death penalty.
The five, including a former army officer and the son of a well known Islamic preacher, are accused of killing John Granville, a 33-year-old officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and his driver, Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, 39.
Granville and Rahama were shot dead while returning home from New Year's Eve celebrations in Khartoum early on January 1 2008.
The men, in their 20s and 30s and wearing traditional Islamic dress, all pleaded not guilty to murder, criminal conspiracy and possessing weapons without a license in Khartoum north court on Thursday.
They showed no reaction when the judge read out the murder charge that is punishable by hanging.
Prosecutors have laid out their case against the five in a series of court sessions stretching back to August, saying the men were religious extremists who had decided to attack foreigners in Sudan. Thursday was the first time the court has heard formal charges and pleas from the defendants.
In an earlier session, one of the defendants admitted in a video-taped statement supplying the four others with weapons, but denied knowing anything about their plans. He faced the same murder charge on Thursday.
The hearing was adjourned until February 16 when the men's defense teams are expected to present their case.
(Reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz; writing by Andrew Heavens; editing by Richard Balmforth)