An American prisoner in Yemen told his lawyers in a rare telephone call this week that he is being held in an area of the capital being targeted in the Saudi-led bombardment and that he fears for his life as the country descends into further chaos.
“This is a very dangerous situation and I don’t know . . . that I am going to make it out of here alive,” Sharif Mobley, a former resident of New Jersey, said during the call, a recording of which was released by his lawyers on Tuesday.
Mobley, 31, was arrested on suspicion of terrorism connections more than five years ago and then held after allegedly killing a prison guard during an attempted escape.
He has been permitted to contact his family and lawyers infrequently — Monday’s call was the first time his family had spoken with him in more than a year — and the latest conversation marked the first time his representatives have publicly released an audio recording from him.
Mobley’s case has taken on new urgency as Yemen erupts in full-scale war, with Shiite Houthi rebels pressing to solidify their control and a Saudi-led military coalition conducting daily airstrikes to force them back.
The U.S. Embassy in Yemen closed in February and withdrew its diplomats because of security concerns, likely making any effort to assist Mobley more difficult. U.S. military forces also have been withdrawn.
Mobley said officials with the U.S. Embassy last visited him in December.
During the call, Mobley said he is being kept in the basement of a Yemeni base that is being used to station anti-aircraft weaponry. He described the building rattling from the force of blasts outside.
“When they bomb us, they’re trying to bomb the anti-aircraft, er, guns. And the anti-aircraft guns are shooting on top of the prison,” Mobley said during one point in the call. “It’s literally on top of the building. So, when they’re bombing, they’re trying to bomb this building.”
During the call, he pleaded with his lawyers to get “me out of here or get me transferred to another prison, because this military base is not safe here.”
Representatives of Reprieve, a London-based human rights group representing Mobley, called on the Obama administration to immediately intervene with the Saudi government to ensure that its aircraft do not target the base where Mobley is being held. They also accused the administration of abandoning him.
“We would like him brought back to the U.S.,” said Kat Craig, Reprieve’s legal director. “I am genuinely concerned for his well-being and I think any steps the U.S. government needs to take should happen imminently without any further delay.”
The State Department declined to comment directly on Mobley’s case “due to privacy considerations.” There are no plans to evacuate private citizens from Yemen, an official said.
Reprieve and Mobley’s sister participated in the Monday phone call, which lasted about 15 minutes.
In the call, Mobley said he was being held by Yemen’s internal security apparatus, the National Security Bureau. He said he could hear the sound of explosions nightly.
“It’s very scary,” Mobley said. “It made the whole building shake.”
Mobley described conditions of his confinement as poor, claiming the water was “toxic.” He said he was living in 24-hour darkness in a windowless basement cell.
“I haven’t seen the sun in months,” he said.
In 2008, Mobley traveled with his wife and daughter to Yemen, where he was said to have wanted to study Arabic and Islam. He also is believed to have had contact with extremists, including the radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
In early 2010, Mobley was surrounded by armed security forces at his apartment in Sanaa. While trying to flee, he was shot in the back. He was later taken to a hospital, where he grabbed a gun in an unsuccessful attempt to escape and shot two guards, killing one, according to Yemeni officials.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.