SAN’A, Yemen, (AP) – An American of Somali descent will go on trial next month over the killing of a Yemeni soldier and the wounding of another during a failed escape attempt from detention, a Yemeni security official said Tuesday.
If convicted, 26-year-old Sharif Mobley of New Jersey could face the death penalty.
Mobley was arrested for suspected links to al-Qaeda and attempted his escape in March while receiving treatment at a Yemeni hospital for a leg condition.
The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
U.S. officials say Mobley traveled to Yemen more than two years ago with the goal of joining a terror group and that the U.S. government was aware of his potential extremist ties long before his arrest.
While living in the United States, Mobley passed a criminal background check and worked as a laborer at several nuclear power plants, but there is no indication that his work had any connection to his alleged involvement with terror groups.
Separately, a Yemeni counterterrorism official said Tuesday that authorities have since June deported a total of 25 foreigners, including Americans, for their suspected links to al-Qaeda.
The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said all 25 confessed during questioning of making contact with al-Qaeda’s U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Christmas Day bombing suspect Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
The official did not say how many Americans were among the 25 deported, but that they included citizens of France, Britain and Asian nations he did not identify.
A number of foreigners remain in detention, also because of suspected links to al-Qaida, said the official. He did not elaborate.
In June, the U.S. State Department said only three out of 12 Americans being held in Yemen have been detained on terror-related charges. Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the arrests had been made over the past several months.
Yemen’s weak central government has struggled with a growing al-Qaeda threat from militants who are increasing their operations in the impoverished and largely lawless country in the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen amassed strength after key leaders escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006. In 2009, it was further bolstered by a merger with Saudi al-Qaeda militants to form al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.