Watch CBSN Live

FBI Probing N.J. Man in Yemen Shootout

Updated at 4:13 p.m. ET

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 Qaeda 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.

Sources say Mobley has been on the FBI's radar for a few months, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr. The FBI will not say what piqued their interest in Mobley, only that it was "intelligence-related."

Officials believe Mobley may have become radicalized through extreme Internet sites and had traveled to Yemen seeking to join Islamist fighters, Orr reports.

Sources say they don't believe that Mobley attended any al Qaeda training camps and was not a fully indoctrinated member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group that organized a failed mission to bomb Northwest flight 253 last Christmas.

Special Report: The Christmas Day Terror Attack

Officials believe Mobley "is more of a foot soldier" than a bona fide terrorist, and they say he is not believed to be connected to any current threat, Orr reports. As one official said, "We're still trying to determine if this guy is a big deal."

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 on the way to see a lawyer Thursday, he said: "I can tell you this: He's no terrorist."

The Yemen Post reports that the suspect in the hospital shooting was a German-Somali dual citizen, but Yemeni foreign ministry sources confirmed on March 8 that the suspect was a U.S. national, not German.

Yemen's Interior Ministry said last week it had arrested 11 suspected al Qaeda militants during a raid on one of their homes.

The ministry said in a statement on March 4 that the men were captured while meeting in the family home of one of the members in the capital San'a. The father of one of the suspects was killed by police when he opened fire on police during the raid.

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 Qaeda branch.

Mobley was among 11 al Qaeda 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.

The U.S. has become increasingly worried about militants based in Yemen since al Qaeda groups there and in Saudi Arabia merged last year to become al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In a report to Congress (PDF) made in January by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry, the committee chairman, warned that al Qaeda's growing presence in Yemen and Somalia represented a "ticking time bomb" to U.S. security.

Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch "seeks to recruit American citizens to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States," Kerry warned in his opening letter to the report. "These Americans are not necessarily of Arab or South Asian descent; they include individuals who converted to Islam in prison or elsewhere and were radicalized."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue