Yemeni officials free suspect in Al Qaeda bomb plot

Hanan Al Samawi's lawyer and fellow students say she has no links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is being blamed for Friday's thwarted attempt to mail bombs to Chicago synagogues.

Yemeni men pass by the house Sunday in which female computer engineering student Hanan al-Samawi lived. Yemeni police arrested Samawi on suspicion of mailing the bombs that were addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, but fellow students say she has no connection to the mail bombs and demonstrated against the arrest Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday evening local time, the Yemeni government released bomber suspect Hanan al-Samawi and her mother, according to Samawi's lawyer Abdulrahman Barman, of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms.

Ms. Samawi was being held as a suspect in the alleged plot to send bombs aboard US-bound cargo planes carrying parcels originating in Yemen that was uncovered on Friday, according to an official Yemeni press statement.

Samawi’s contact details, including her mobile number, were found on one of the explosive packages, which allegedly had been intended for synagogues in Chicago. A tip from a foreign intelligence agency forwarded her name and phone number to Yemeni authorities, says the Yemeni government.

But a Yemeni official briefed on the ongoing investigation but not authorized to speak to the press has confirmed that Samawi has been freed.

"During the questioning, the shipping agent was called in to identify the suspect and informed authorities that she wasn’t the individual who signed the shipping manifesto. Authorities concluded that this was a case of stolen identity by an individual who knew the detained suspect’s full name, address, and telephone number," said the official.

STORY: Yemen packages: Is Al Qaeda focusing on small-scale attacks?

Mr. Barman and Samawi's fellow students say she has no links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is being blamed for the attack. They claim she's being made a scapegoat to show that the Yemeni government is doing something about the attempted terrorist attacks.

“Al Qaeda is smarter than this. They would not have used one of their telephones to set off the bomb,” says Barman. “Nobody would do that. This isn’t rational thinking.”

Barman says that the Yemeni government has subverted the law in the past in their fight against terrorism, and that Sanawi has become another victim of such injustices.

“Everyone knows that any person can go to a shipping company and put any name or number on the package,” he added.

Student protest

About 100 of Samawi’s fellow students staged a demonstration on Sunday afternoon down the main street of Sanaa University’s campus demanding their colleague’s release.

“I am sure she is innocent. She loves foreigners. She always wants foreigners to be her friends,” Siham al-Mohamedy, a close friend of Samawi’s, told the Monitor at the protest while surrounded by fellow students chanting “freedom, freedom for Hanan” and holding signs that read “I lost my ID does that mean I’m next.”

“She is very moderate in her religious beliefs,” Ms. Mohamedy added.

Life goes on as normal

And while the last few days’ events have once again focused international attention on the threat of Islamic extremism coming out of this impoverished south Arabian nation, life in Sanaa carries on largely uninterrupted by any signs of anti-Western terrorism brewing within Yemen’s borders.

In fact, after a series of street interviews in Sanaa, the majority of Yemenis were not even aware of the recent bomb plot.

“Average Yemenis are worried about their food, their security, something that belongs to their daily life,” says Rahma Hugaira, the head of the Yemeni Women Media Forum, a local nongovernmental organization, adding that the reason Yemenis aren’t aware of the bomb plot is because “in this society, the majority are illiterate. If they had access to information, then they would be concerned.”

When taxi driver Ali Mohamed was alerted that the explosives bound for the United States had originated in Yemen, he immediately expressed his disgust. “You know, these people, they come from abroad to make problems between Yemeni and America, and if it’s Yemenis who are doing it, then they are doing it for the money,” Mr. Mohamed said, demonstrating a popular line of thinking in the country.

STORY: Yemen packages: Is Al Qaeda focusing on small-scale attacks?

--- This piece was updated at 3:42 pm EST, Sunday to reflect Samawi's release.

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