Yemen counterterrorism authorities captured a U.S. citizen of Somali origin after he shot his way out of a hospital in the Middle Eastern country, where he was being held after a sweep of al-Qaida members, authorities said Thursday.
Authorities in Yemen are holding Sharif Mobley, 26, who was being treated in Republican Hospital in San’a when he got into a shootout with guards, killing one, as he attempted to escape, said Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for Yemen’s embassy in Washington.
Mobley graduated from high school in 2002 in the southern New Jersey town of Buena, and records show he had previously lived in Philadelphia and Newark, Del. It wasn’t clear when he went to Yemen, though his mother told WMGM-TV in Atlantic City that he was there when she talked to him in January.
As his father, Charles Mobley, pulled out of the family’s driveway on the way to see a lawyer Thursday, he said: “I can tell you this: He’s no terrorist.”
Mobley’s capture is the latest in a string of Yemeni counterterrorism efforts aimed at disrupting al-Qaida. The al-Qaida branch there has been linked to the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner and is a growing concern for U.S. authorities.
FBI spokesman Rich Wolf in Baltimore confirmed Thursday that the agency was investigating Mobley’s case but wouldn’t comment further. It wasn’t clear why the Baltimore office was investigating, but it covers Delaware.
Michael Brothman of Vineland, N.J., said he graduated with Mobley from Buena Regional High School in 2002. He remembered Mobley boasting that he had a black belt in karate, being a fan of anime and being competitive in gym class. Mobley was also a member of his high school’s wrestling team.
Campaign finance records show Mobley received $75 as an election day worker for Gov. Jon Corzine’s campaign in 2005.
“I was kind of shocked when my friend called me about the news reports,” Brothman said.
Dawn Bass, another classmate, told WMGM that Mobley was “a really nice kid” who liked to be the center of attention.
Working with U.S. intelligence officials, Yemen has stepped up its counterterrorism efforts lately, particular since the attempted Detroit attack. The suspect in the Detroit case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, spent weeks in Yemen prior to his failed attack and has been linked to the country’s al-Qaida branch.
Mobley was among 11 al-Qaida suspects detained this month after a security sweep in San’a, the capital, officials said. He was taken to the hospital over the weekend and apprehended after he attacked the guards in an escape attempt and barricaded himself in a hospital room, Albasha said.
Officials say he snatched a gun from one security guard and shot him, then made his way down from his fifth-floor room to the ground floor. Witnesses say he then got into a shootout with hospital security guards, who pinned him down until a unit of the anti-terrorism police apprehended him.
Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo in Washington; Aaron Morrison in Trenton; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; and Ahmed al-Hajj in San’a.