SANAA/NEW YORK, (Reuters) – Yemen said on Friday it was holding a U.S. citizen suspected of being an al Qaeda militant who killed a hospital guard last week, and a U.S. firm said the suspect had worked at nuclear reactors in New Jersey.
The man, named as Sharif Mobley, was among 11 al Qaeda suspects arrested during a series of raids in the Yemeni capital in early March, a Yemeni government source told Reuters. He said Mobley killed a guard as he tried to escape from a hospital where he was being treated.
A U.S. company which owns several nuclear power plants said Mobley, 26, worked at the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear reactors in New Jersey and other reactors in the area.
The company, Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, said in a report to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Mobley worked as a labourer from 2002 to 2008, mainly during refueling outages for several weeks at a time. He did routine labour work carrying supplies and assisting maintenance activities.
The source from the Yemeni government told Reuters that Mobley was the al Qaeda suspect who started a gunbattle at a hospital in Sanaa last week in a bid to escape detention. He was recaptured, but not before killing one person and wounding several others.
Yemen became a major Western security concern after the Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.
A 23-year-old Nigerian man suspected of being behind the attack had visited Yemen to study Arabic and Islam and had had contact with radical U.S.-born Muslim preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who is based in the impoverished Arab country.
Awlaki was also linked to a U.S. Army psychiatrist who shot dead 13 people at the Fort Hood base in Texas in November.
In February, U.S. counterterrorism officials said U.S. spy agencies believed Awlaki to have played a bigger role than first thought in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s decision to start launching attacks against U.S. targets.
Western allies and neighbouring Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability in Yemen on many fronts to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.
In addition to fighting al Qaeda, Yemen is also struggling to contain separatist tensions in the south where violence has escalated in recent weeks.
Sanaa is also bringing an end to a northern Shi’ite insurgency. Last month, facing international pressure to turn its sights to al Qaeda, Sanaa declared a truce in the long-running northern conflict.