SAN’A, Yemen (AP) – The U.S. Al Qaeda suspect detained in Yemen had persuaded his guard to unshackle him so the two could pray together and then snatched his unattended gun and killed him during the suspect’s failed escape attempt, senior security officials said Saturday.
Sharif Mobley, a 26-year-old American of Somali descent, had traveled to Yemen two years ago, ostensibly to study Arabic, and was recently arrested there in a sweep against Al Qaeda.
Mobley made his bold escape attempt March 7 after being transferred from prison to a hospital in the capital, San’a, for medical treatment. He tried to shoot his way out of the hospital, killing one guard and seriously injuring another before being recaptured.
New details about the episode obtained by The Associated Press indicate Mobley had a level of training and cunning characteristic of the Al Qaeda terror network.
Two senior Yemeni officials involved in Mobley’s case said he was being treated for complications from a metal rod implanted in his leg some time in the past. The prison doctor had asked to transfer him to the hospital where he stayed for a week.
The officials agreed to discuss details of Mobley’s attempted escape on condition of anonymity because the investigation has not finished.
At the hospital, Mobley befriended his guards and asked them to teach him Arabic. He performed prayers, read the Quran with them.
On the day of the incident, the officials said, Mobley asked his guard to unshackle him from his hospital bed at prayer time. The guard did, but went into a washroom ahead of Mobley to perform ritual ablutions required before the five daily prayers in Islam, leaving his gun lying unattended.
Mobley snatched the gun and shot the guard twice, first in the head and the second in the chest, as he walked out of the washroom.
When a second guard outside heard the shots, he rushed in. Mobley shot him in the kidney and abdomen, leaving him in serious condition.
Mobley was then chased around the hospital until he surrendered.
One of the senior officials said Mobley’s targeting indicates he is highly trained in the use of firearms. The official criticized the negligence of the prison guards. He also said Mobley had been in the high security intelligence prison. He said he was detained a few months ago, contradicting a statement by the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, which had said he was detained earlier this month.
U.S. officials say Mobley had been a laborer at six U.S. nuclear power plants before traveling to Yemen. U.S. authorities are nvestigating whether he had access to sensitive information or materials that would be useful to terrorists.
U.S. officials say Mobley traveled to Yemen with the goal of joining a terrorist group and that the U.S. government was aware of his potential extremist ties long before his arrest.
U.S. intelligence officials have warned of the possibility that Al Qaeda and other extremist movements overseas could be seeking to radicalize American Muslims and recruit them.
Mobley grew up in Buena, New Jersey. His parents said he is not a terrorist, though a former friend said Mobley was becoming increasingly radical in his Muslim beliefs before he moved to Yemen. His mother last spoke to him in January.