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'They're Trying to Kill Me': US Citizen Imprisoned in Yemen Makes Desperate Call Home

Lawyers fear for the life of Sharif Mobley, a US citizen detained in Yemen since 2010, following a call to his sister on Thursday, where his final words are 'They're beating me with a stick.'
Photo via Facebook

"They're trying to kill me. They're trying to kill me here at the prison. Hello? They're beating me with a stick."

These are the last words heard from an American father-of-three imprisoned in Yemen, in a desperate phone call to his sister and lawyers.

Sharif Mobley, from New Jersey, is believed to have made the call from a basement prison in Sanaa where he is being held on Thursday morning, according to his lawyers from human rights organization Reprieve.


The US citizen was seized from the streets of the Yemeni capital in 2010 and questioned about suspected ties to terrorism. Mobley was shot in the leg and tortured, his lawyers say. He has not been charged, but he remains in prison.

In this frantic call, Mobley asks his sister Camilyaa Beyah for his lawyers and repeatedly says: "They're trying to kill me."

Mobley's last words are "They're beating me with a stick." For another minute, only muffled shouting and an exchange between Mobley's concerned sister and lawyer are audible. His wellbeing is currently unknown.

Mobley's lawyers have attempted to enlist the support of the Obama administration in the case. US diplomats have reportedly met with Mobley but have declined to tell his family or lawyers of his whereabouts. Reprieve believes the US was complicit in Mobley's original detention.

"For months, the US has ignored the desperate pleas of this young American, who we can now hear being savagely beaten by Yemeni guards," Reprieve US attorney Alka Pradhan told VICE News.

"Sharif's elderly mother in New Jersey is terrified that her son has been beaten to death, and is baffled by her government's silence. If a US passport means anything, it is that our government will not callously abandon us to be murdered abroad."

Mobley, now 31, was born in New Jersey and grew up in Philadelphia. Interviews with his New Jersey friends in the Washington Post suggest he became more and more religious and political throughout his 20s. In 2008 he reportedly decided to move to Yemen with his wife and daughter, and study Arabic and Islam.


Mobley had spoken to Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and preacher who the US government claims was involved in planning terrorist operations for al Qaeda, his lawyers say. Al-Awlaki was in Yemen from 2004 until his death in 2011. Although the two spoke, Mobley's lawyers maintain that he was never involved in terrorism, and that Mobley was seeking advice for remaining in Yemen after his wife's difficult pregnancy.

Related: As Yemen Crumbled, a Disappeared Detainee Called Home in Fear for His Life

The country became progressively more insecure, with an increase in attacks on tourists. In 2009, Mobley attempted to leave — but US embassy officials allegedly refused to process the papers. On January 26, 2010, eight armed and masked gunmen in two vans attempted to grab Mobley while he was shopping in Sanaa. He ran, the men shot him twice in the leg, and he was detained.

A Reprieve court filing revealed what happened to Mobley and his family after his detention. His family home was raided by 15-20 soldiers on the evening of his capture and his wife and children held at gunpoint.

Days later, he was interrogated by two US agents who apparently identified themselves as "Matt from FBI and Khan from DoD". They questioned him about his suspected terror links, allegedly told him "he had no constitutional rights," and interviewed him several times.

No terror charges were brought. However, Yemen accused Mobley of murdering a guard and shooting another during what they have described as a botched escape attempt from the hospital where he was recovering from his shooting.


Mobley's lawyers think that the US was complicit in his original detention. However, Mobley has not been present at several pre-trial court hearings, in which evidence of US involvement in his kidnap and torture was due to be heard, following his removal into secret detention on 27 February 2014.

His lawyers had no contact with him from then until March 30, 2015, when Mobley was able to ring them. In a number of other sporadic, frantic phone calls to his Philadelphia wife made at the start of the year using the cell phone of a sympathetic guard, Mobley said that he is being tortured and threatened.

Related: Yemen: A Failed State

The US State Department has provided no indication of whether they are currently attempting to intervene in Mobley's case. The Guardian has sought substantive comment on Mobley's case for months without success.

"Consular officers strive to assist US citizens detained abroad whenever possible," a US State Department official told VICE News in a statement.

"On February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the Department of State suspended all embassy operations and US Embassy Sanaa American staff was relocated out of the country. All consular services in Sanaa have been suspended until further notice. There are no current plans to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen.

"Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to provide further information," the statement added.

Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant

Image via Find Sharif Mobley/Facebook