WASHINGTON — Some American former convicts who converted to Islam in prison have moved to Yemen and a few may have joined extremist groups there, according to a new Senate report.
The report, from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that as many as 36 American Muslims who were prisoners have moved to Yemen in recent months, ostensibly to study Arabic, and that several of them have "dropped off the radar" and may have connected to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The report warns that Americans recruited in Yemen or Somalia may pose a particular threat, since they can operate freely inside the United States.
Yemen has come under increased scrutiny from American counterterrorism agencies since November, after it emerged that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, had exchanged e-mail messages with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni-American cleric in hiding in Yemen. The focus intensified after the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas by a Nigerian who allegedly was trained and supplied with explosives in Yemen.
The Senate report, written by the committee's Democratic staff, said the government was "on heightened alert because of the potential threat from extremists carrying U.S. passports and the related challenges involved in detecting and stopping homegrown operatives."
With the United States putting al-Qaida under intense pressure in Pakistan, some fighters have moved to join militant groups in Yemen and Somalia, as well as in North Africa and Southeast Asia, the report said.
The report notes that members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, appeared at an antigovernment rally in southern Yemen last month. In video later shown on Al-Jazeera television, a militant told the crowd that the group's war was with the United States, not the Yemeni army.
In addition to the American former prisoners in Yemen, the report said there were about 10 other Americans not of Yemeni ancestry who have also moved there, married Yemeni women and adopted a radical form of Islam. None of that group, however, appears to have sought terrorist training, the report said.