Yemen Releases 36 Men After They Renounce Extremism

Yemeni authorities released 36 men rounded up as suspected militants following the Sept. 11 terror attacks after they renounced extremism, a judiciary official said Monday.

Hammoud al-Hitar, a judge in the Yemeni Supreme Court, told The Associated Press that the 36 men pledged to "abide by the right path, renounce extremism and respect foreigners and their property."

He also said evidence against the men was lacking.

Meanwhile, Yemeni authorities tightened coastal security measures Monday. All fishing boats were ordered to notify authorities where they are working, a security official speaking on condition of anonymity said. Any such boat spotted within three miles of Yemen's shores that hadn't given notification could be fired on, he said.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who discussed security measures with senior officials Monday, also canceled time-off during the upcoming 3-day Muslim holiday for all security officers in the country. It wasn't clear if the action was based on any specific threat during the holiday, which begins Thursday.

On Sunday, Yemeni authorities tried to arrest a senior Al Qaeda member identified only as el-Mahazar and 20 other suspected members in Shabwa province, a stronghold for Muslim militants, security officials said on condition of anonymity. However, they said all 21 escaped.

Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral homeland, long has been a fertile Al Qaeda recruiting ground and Al Qaedaaida members are believed to be hiding in vast tribal areas beyond government control. Yemen also has been a terror staging ground.

The 36 freed men were released to their families and tribes over the past 12 days, al-Hitar said. If authorities believe they have strayed from their pledges, the relatives will be ordered to return them to custody.

Saleh ordered the men released after their pledges because there was no evidence any of them were involved in terror acts, al-Hitar said.

Further information about the suspects was not available.

A Yemeni lawmaker said in September the country was holding 104 people suspected of either belonging to Al Qaedaaida or being involved in terrorist activities.

At least 38 other people were arrested last month after authorities uncovered plans for an attack to avenge the Nov. 4 death of Ali Qaed Sinan al-Harethi, Al Qaedaaida leader Usama bin Laden's top lieutenant in Yemen. He and five others were killed when their car was hit by a missile fired from an unmanned CIA aircraft.

In October 2000, an explosives-packed boat rammed the USS Cole, blowing a hole in the destroyer's side and killing 17 U.S. sailors.

More recently, Al Qaedaaida was blamed in a similar Oct. 6 attack on a French oil tanker that killed a Bulgarian crew member and spilled 90,000 barrels of crude oil.

After the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Saleh committed his country to cooperating in the global war on terrorism and allowed American forces into the country to train its military to combat terrorists.