American Among FBI Most Wanted Terrorists Appears in Yemen Court, Walks Free

A Yemeni-American, one of the FBI's 26 "most wanted" for terrorism, appeared at a session of his trial in a Yemeni court Saturday with bodyguards and then walked free, apparently not subject to any form of incarceration, eyewitnesses said.

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The 41-year-old Jaber Elbaneh attended a session of the trial for him and 22 other Al Qaeda members charged for a series attacks on oil facilities, an eyewitness said speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Footage of the suspect entering and leaving the court unimpeded also appeared on the Dubai-based pan-Arab satellite channel, al-Arabiya.

"He entered the courtroom surrounded by four bodyguards, introduced himself to the judge then he left," the eyewitness said about Elbaneh who is believed to be living with his family in the province of al-Dalai, some 220 kilometers south of San'a, despite being on trial.

According to the FBI Web site, the State Department is offering up to US$5 million for information leading to his arrest.

Elbaneh was convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in November in a lower court on charges of masterminding two attacks in the eastern Marid and Hadramawt provinces in Sept. 2006.

He and 22 other Al Qaeda prisoners broke out of their Yemeni jail in February 2006 by digging a tunnel to a nearby mosque.

He surrendered in May to Yemen authorities but was then never sent back to jail despite the ongoing trial.

Security authorities have declined to comment about Elbaneh legal situation.

In May 2003, U.S. prosecutors charged Elbaneh in absentia with conspiring with a group, known as the "Lackawanna Six" after their New York state hometown, to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

The U.S. then asked Yemen to hand over Elbaneh and while he was subsequently arrested by authorities in January 2004, he was never extradited.

Elbaneh is a former resident of Lackawanna, N.Y. He left the United States in spring 2001 as part of a larger group that traveled to Usama bin Laden's al-Farooq training camp in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda has an active presence in Yemen despite government efforts to destroy the network. The group was blamed for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole destroyer in Aden that killed 17 American sailors and the attack on a French oil tanker, the Limburg, that killed one person two years later.