Yemen frees suspected al-Qaida operative

SANAA, Yemen, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Yemeni authorities have released 11 Muslim fundamentalists, including the suspected leader of an al-Qaida cell, who were detained in east Yemen.

Daily al-Shura, mouthpiece of the opposition Popular Forces Union Party, Tuesday quoted well-informed sources as saying Abdel Rauf Nassib, who is accused of leading an al-Qaida cell whose members were convicted of planning terrorist activities and forging official documents, was among the released prisoners.


Nassib, a former Yemeni intelligence officer, was tried and acquitted in the case of the bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in October 2000 in which 17 U.S. servicemen were killed.

He was also accused of planning attacks against U.S. interests in the poor Arab Gulf country. There was no information about the reason for the release of Nassib, who was among Yemenis who had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation.

In another development, a Yemeni court which specializes in terror cases Tuesday ordered the release of Hadi Mohammed Saleh al-Waeli, who was accused of selling arms and ammunition to the bombers of the USS Cole.

The public prosecution accused al-Waeli of selling arms without a license and asked for the highest punishment provided by law in such cases. But the court ruled that the three years that he had spent in prison were sufficient and ordered his release.


The releases of Nassib and al-Waeli come a few weeks after 23 al-Qaida prisoners, described as the most dangerous, escaped from the central intelligence prison in Sanaa.

Among the escapees are 13 convicted in the bombing of the USS Cole. The incident sparked anger in Washington and accusations that Yemeni security officials were involved in the escape.

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