Yemen lets jihadi walk free?

A man claiming to be Jaber al-Banna (also rendered Elbaneh), a Yemeni-American who is among the FBI’s most wanted terrorism suspects, showed up in a Yemeni court Feb. 23—and was allowed to walk free, surprising the attendees. Al-Banna’s appearance was at the court hearing the appeals case of 36 Yemenis sentenced convicted last year of planning attacks for al-Qaeda.

The men were sentenced last November to terms of between two and 15 years after they were convicted over an abortive twin attack on oil facilities in September 2006—one on an oil refinery at Marib, and the other on petrol storage tanks at a terminal operated by Canadian firm Nexen in the southeastern Hadramout province. Al-Banna was charged in absentia with masterminding the plot, as were several of the escapees.

Al-Banna is a former resident of Lackawanna, NY who left the US in 2001 as part of a group that authorities said traveled to Osama bin Laden’s al-Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. In May 2003, US prosecutors charged al-Banna in absentia with conspiring with the so-called “Lackawanna Six” to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

The US asked Yemen to hand over al-Banna, but Yemeni authorities refused to extradite him after his arrest in January 2004. In February 2006 Al-Banna and 22 other prisoners broke out of a Yemeni prison by digging a tunnel to a nearby mosque. The US is offering up to $5 million for information leading to his apprehension. (Yemen Times, Buffalo News, Feb. 24)

While there have been guilty pleas in the Lackawanna Six case, unindicted co-conspirators are said to be at large in Yemen.

See our last posts on Yemen and al-Qaeda.