Washington, Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat – A US State Department official confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that US nationals are currently being held in Yemen on “terrorism related charges” although he said that it was not possible to disclose the precise number of American citizens held at this time. Referring to the arrest of the American nationals, the US official said that “the case is changing” and that “there has been more than one incident” indicating that the US citizens were arrested in stages or on different occasions, despite the fact that all of those arrested are being charged in “terrorism related cases.”
The State Department official also clarified to Asharq Al-Awsat that “in some cases US citizens have more than one nationality, and it not immediately known that they are American, or they may not announce this.” He also confirmed that the US government “is in daily contact with the Yemeni authorities regarding this case” in order to obtain information and that the US Embassy is providing the American citizens being detained with consular services.
The US official also revealed that the Yemeni authorities allowed officials from the US Embassy in Sanaa to visit the American detainees, revealing that “we have visited all of the US citizens who are being detained and who are known to have been arrested.”
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley announced yesterday that 12 US citizens are being held by Sanaa on terrorism related charges, however it is not known if this is the final number, and the US authorities have refused to confirm the identity of those being detained.
In Sanaa, the Yemeni authorities continue to remain silent over the controversial news of the arrest of dozens of foreign nationals by the Yemeni intelligence services against the backdrop of the war against terrorism. The US Embassy to Yemen has also refused to comment on this, with an official telling Asharq Al-Awsat that they are not in possession of any information at this time that has not already been made public.
A number of sources have said that the foreign nationals arrested by Sanaa came to Yemen to study Arabic, and last Saturday Asharq Al-Awsat published the news that the Yemeni authorities had arrested an unconfirmed number of foreign nationals of different nationals, including Nigerian and Bengali nationals.
The failed attempt by Nigerian youth Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a US airliner in December 2009 increased the level of suspicion towards foreign nationals in Yemen after it emerged that Abdulmutallab was associated with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American extremist of Yemeni descent currently hiding out in Yemen. Following this, Yemeni authorities tightened the procedures for foreign nationals wanting to enter Yemen, for example foreign nationals now have to obtain entry visas from the Yemeni embassy in their home country, rather than obtaining a visa in-country from the airport in Sanaa, as was standard procedure in the past. The Yemeni authorities have also made it standard procedure for the Yemeni security agency to approve all requests to enter Yemen.
Washington believes that Yemen is facing real threats from Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, who are based in the Yemeni mountainside and surrounded by Yemeni tribesmen who are sympathetic to their cause. This allows the Al Qaeda organization to remain hidden and carry out terrorist operations in relative safety.
Commenting on the arrest of American citizens in Yemen, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed that his country is cooperating strongly with the Yemeni government in the fight against terrorism, saying “together we are doing our best to help Yemen…reduce the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.”