Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Terror package suspect released after clearing her name

First published in Yemen Times 

SANA’A, Oct. 31 - The planned protest at Sana'a University to demand the release of a fellow classmate turned to a joyous celebration with Hanan Al-Sawami, 22, as the event's star.

"I thank everyone who stood by me. I will never forget their support," she said after being released with her mother on Sunday night.

The computer science student at Sana’a University is now recovering from being held for a day with her mother in the National Security detention after being suspected of sending explosive packages to western destinations in the USA and UK.

"It was a matter of identity theft. Someone knew Hanan's full details and gave her phone number, address and full name as the return address for the sent packages," said Abdulrahman Baraman a lawyer from HOOD, a Yemeni human rights orgnization that volunateered to defend her case.

According to an Al-Jazeera report, when the shipping agent was called in to identify her, he said she was not the right person who sent the packages.

A US official said Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi bombmaker believed to be working with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is now a key suspect in the plot.

The USA security authority had informed Yemen of the packages after recieving an intellignece tip-off from Saudi security. The main suspect now, Al-Asiri, is in the Saudi wanted list after his brother was killed while attempting to assasinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi counterterrorism chief.

Hanan was relaxing at home listening to music on her MP3 player when at 8:15pm the house was stormed by a female government security unit on Saturday.

Overnight Hanan found herself a terrorism suspect in an international case. She was dragged out of her home along with her asthmatic mother and detained in the national political prison.

Mohammed Al-Samawi, Hanan’s father had known that his daughter was innocent and her arrest was a ‘big misunderstanding.’

“I don’t want to challenge the government,” Al-Samawi had said when his daughter was detained. “I just want them to let my family out. I don’t want any trouble.”

The mother of the student, Amatulillah Mohammed, was also held in a bad medical condition, but now she is recovering and happy that the ordeal is over. She suffers from asthma and her husband feared for her health while she was detained with their daughter.

On hearing the news Mohammed Al-Samawi had travelled more than 13 hours by road from Hadramout, where he works for a governement establishement.

Tens of students demonstrated at Sana’a University on Sunday morning following the arrest of computer science student Al-Samawi in connection with explosive packages found on two cargo jets bound for the U.S. They had planned another larger protest on Monday morning, which fortnutely turned into a celebration of her release.

Hanan is a fifth year student based at the faculty of engineering at the New Campus of the capital’s university. Friends at the protest described her as a ‘moderate Muslim girl’ and denied she had any connection with radical Muslims.

Security forces surrounded the university campus on Sunday afternoon, restricting the movement of students around campus, according to Ridhwan Al-Masodi head of the student union at Sana’a University.

“Her direct relation to the packages has not been confirmed, said, Abdel Rahman Berman, the human rights lawyer, from HOOD, volunteering to represent the two women. “We should not let the security forces use the pretext of terrorism to violate human rights.”

Friends and fellow students went to the office of HOOD in Sana’a today to meet Abdel Rahman Bahman. They maintained their friend and classmate Hanan had no connections with terrorism or fanatics.

“They were crying and asking just one question ‘why her’ and the answer to this question can only be answered by the General Attorney of Prosecution,” Abdel Rahman Berman told The Yemen Times.

Suspects should be formally charged within 24 hours and have access to a lawyer, according to Yemen’s constitution.

Yemen security authorities were lead to Al-Samawi by information received from Washington, including a telephone number of the sender of two packages alleged to have contained explosives in the form of ink cartridges, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in a press conference on Saturday evening.

In the press conference Saleh doubted that all packages suspected to include explosives came from Yemen, but he said Yemen will look into the issue and welcomed a British intelligence team into the country to participate in the investigation.

“But we will not tolerate any interference in our internal affairs,” he warned.

Nobody has so far made contact with the two detained women and their exact location is not known, Abdel Rahman Bahman speculated that they were being held, possibly underground, in the National Security Prison.

A major international security alert was launched after multiple packages sent to synagogues in the U.S. were traced back to Yemen. A tip off from Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities launched a full scale major incident in the U.S.

Parcels sent by FedEx and UPS, both with offices on Hadda street in Sana’a, were involved.

An employee at the FedEx office explained to the Yemen Times that all packages are screened first by FedEx at their office, and a second time at the airport. “The company thoroughly processes packages that are being sent from Yemen every day, said another source at Fedex, “There are three stages of inspection followed by wrapping and sealing of the packages, then they are scanned at the Yemeni airport and again at the destination,” he said. “Even then, sometimes mistakes like this happen.”

Further down Hadda Street at the UPS an employee, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said that “all packages, one hundred percent, are checked visually by UPS personnel. This is according to our security manual. At the airport they go through the X-ray. I cannot say whether this was done this time, it is the responsibility of airport personnel, but our people are always there to make sure everything goes according to our procedures.”

A further 26 packages are being investigated by government officials on Sunday, with reports that several cargo and customs staff had been arrested in connection with the on-going investigation.

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