SAN’A, Yemen (AP) – Kidnappers holding three Germans in Yemen have made a new demand, asking for the release of a Yemeni cleric jailed in the United States on terrorism charges, tribal mediators said Thursday.
The mediators said the kidnappers’ leader Sheik Abed Rabbo Saleh al-Tam told them he now also wants the release of Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad.
Al-Moayad was sentenced in 2005 in New York to 75 years in prison for supporting terrorism. But in October, an appeals court overturned his conviction and ordered a retrial because of inflammatory testimony about unrelated terrorism cases in his first trial.
It was not immediately clear how the kidnappers expected to influence the cleric’s release in the United States from their stronghold in Yemen.
The demand comes on top of previous demands by Sheik al-Tam for the release of his son and brother from Yemeni jails.
The three Germans, an aid worker based in Yemen and her visiting mother and father, were snatched Monday by Bani Dhabyan tribesmen in Dhamar province, located about 65 miles (100 kilometers) south of the capital, San’a.
The mediators, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of government retribution, said they met al-Tam Wednesday to persuade him to release the hostages.
Police have arrested some 115 men over the past few days from the Bani Dhabyan tribe, according to Brigadier Mohammed Saleh Tureik, chief of San’a security. Tureik said in a statement late Wednesday that some of the detainees were suspected of having a role in the kidnapping. He also said that Yemeni security forces have almost completely surrounded the Bani Dhabyan tribal lands where they believe the hostages are held and “will not allow the kidnappers to leave without being punished.” However, the tribal mediators say the security forces are not close to the rugged mountainous area which is home to many heavily armed tribesmen.
Al-Moayad was convicted of conspiring to support and attempting to support al-Qaeda and the Palestinian extremist group Hamas. He was lured to Germany by two FBI informants in 2003 and secretly recorded promising to funnel money to Hamas and al-Qaeda. He also boasted that Osama bin Laden called him “my sheik.” He was arrested by German police and sent to the United States.
The case gained notoriety when one of the U.S. government’s informants, Mohamed Alanssi, set himself on fire in Washington in what he later described as an attempt to get more money from the FBI.
During the trial, Alanssi described al-Moayad as a dedicated funder of terrorism who boasted of giving bin Laden $20 million in the years before Sept. 11.