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Why Sharif Mobley is to be tried in Yemen – and what it means for American Muslims

US interest in the case of Sharif Mobley, who was set to be tried today, illustrates broader concern about American Muslims going abroad to train with militants.

By Laura KasinofCorrespondent / October 27, 2010

American Sharif Mobley faces trial in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa

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Sanaa, Yemen

It's like the plot of an international thriller: American man sentenced to death by firing squad in an authoritarian country on the other side of the world. But for 26-year-old New Jersey native Sharif Mobley, this plotline is far from fiction.

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A Muslim living with his American wife and their two children in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, Mr. Mobley was set to be tried today on charges of killing a state security officer – a crime for which he could be sentenced to death. But due to the fact that no one arranged translation services for Mobley, who does not speak Arabic, the trial was postponed two weeks.

Mobley was arrested in a January security operation targeting suspected Al Qaeda operatives, during which the Yemeni police shot him in the leg. While recovering, US officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Defense questioned him about ties to Al Qaeda and the whereabouts of Anwar al-Awlaki, according to Mobley's lawyer, Cori Crider, who works for Reprieve, a London-based organization that opposes the death penalty.

Mr. Awlaki, an imam, is an American of Yemeni descent who is both a recruiter and propagandist for Al Qaeda, and is believed to have inspired the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre.

Ms. Crider denies that Mobley is tied to Al Qaeda or its branch in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But she told the Monitor that in a "moment of madness," after weeks of abuse and interrogation over alleged connections to Awlaki and AQAP, Mobley seized an opportunity to try to escape and, in the process, fatally shot the Yemeni officer.

State Department: Americans not immune to Al Qaeda ideology

Mobley's case has put his situation in the spotlight. But the US interest in this American Muslim is tied to what appears to be the growing trend of Western Muslims traveling to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen to train with militants and, in some cases, carry out attacks against US forces and their allies.

In recent weeks, attacks in Yemen attributed to AQAP have been on the rise. An Oct. 6 attack on a vehicle carrying British diplomats in Sanaa, for example, had all the markings of an Al Qaeda plot. The uptick underscores the increasing threat posed by the terrorist network in Yemen, which officials worry will worsen if more foreigners are lured here.

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