Imprisoned American Sharif Mobley Fears for Life as Saudi Bombs Yemen

by Keir Simmons and Alexander Smith /  / Updated  / Source: NBC News

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An American father-of-three imprisoned in Yemen fears he will be killed by airstrikes targeting rebels in the country, according to his lawyers.

Sharif Mobley, 31, was arrested in Yemen's capital Sanaa in 2010 after he allgedly made contact with U.S.-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki was a prominent member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula until he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Mobley has never been charged with terrorism and his family claims he is innocent.

Mobley, through his lawyers, denies being in touch with al-Awlaki. He is in prison on terrorism allegations that are not specified by the Yemenis. He is accused of killing a prison guard and has not been given a trial.

A State Department official told NBC News: “The safety and welfare of U.S. citizens overseas is among our top priorities. Consular officers strive to assist U.S. citizens detained abroad whenever possible. However, on February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sana’a, the Department of State suspended all embassy operations and U.S. Embassy Sana’a American staff was relocated out of the country. All consular services in Sana’a have been suspended until further notice."

In a telephone interview with the campaign group Reprieve, whose lawyers are providing legal support, the New Jersey native said he was being held in a military base that was being "bombed every night" as part of the Saudi-led offensive.

"It's very frightening," said Mobley in an audio recording of the discussion obtained by NBC News. "I don't know that I'm going to make it out of here alive."

Saudi Arabia started bombing Yemen after Shiite Houthi rebels made territorial gains against the country's internationally recognized government.

"Last night there was a bombing here from the Saudi Arabian airplane," Mobley told Reprieve on Monday. "It made the whole building shake."

Mobley said he told a guard at the prison that "I'm not a soldier, I'm a civilian. I don't need to be in this city." He said the prison was being targeted because anti-aircraft guns were positioned on its roof.

Mobley claimed he was being held in poor conditions in a basement cell in the military base. He said the drinking water was not clean and that he was being held in 24-hour darkness. "I'm in the basement and that's why I'm afraid," he said. "I haven't seen the sun in months."

He added that he was visited by U.S. Embassy officials in December but later learned that the diplomatic outpost had since been shut.

"When I try to tell them I want to speak to my embassy, they tell me, 'You don't have an embassy'," Mobley added.

At least 36 people were killed in fierce fighting overnight, according to witnesses and officials.

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