SAN’A, Yemen—Yemeni authorities have detained several foreigners, including Americans, Britons and an Australian woman, in connection with an investigation into al-Qaida’s increased activity in the country, security officials said Wednesday.
The arrests were made after foreign intelligence agencies provided lists of names of people they wanted detained or put under surveillance, the two security officials said.
They would not discuss details about most of those targeted—a group that also included Frenchmen, Africans and Asians—or specify how many they were.
Al-Qaida’s offshoot in Yemen has steadily increased in strength since key leaders escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006. In January 2009 it got another boost by merging with Saudi al-Qaida militants to form al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Under U.S. pressure and with the help of American aid, training and intelligence, Yemen’s government has battled the al-Qaida militants. But the weak government’s control barely extends beyond the capital, and the militants have found shelter among powerful and sympathetic tribes that are hostile to the government.
The two Yemeni security officials said some of the recently detained foreigners are believed to be linked to the Nigerian man suspected of attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in December. U.S. investigators say the Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has told them he was trained and instructed in the plot by al-Qaida in Yemen.
Some of the detainees are also thought to be connected to radical American-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have inspired attacks on the U.S. and is hiding in Yemen, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to brief journalists.
The detained Australian woman moved to Yemen with her two children in 2006 after converting to Islam, her Yemeni lawyer said.
He identified her as 30-year-old Shyloh Giddins and said she was arrested May 15. The lawyer, Abdel-Rahman Berman, said he was not allowed to discuss details of the investigation, but he said she has not been charged.
According to Australian government documents obtained from the lawyer, Giddins’ Australian passport was canceled in April because the intelligence service there believes she is a security threat.
The documents state that Giddins has an extremist interpretation of Islam, without elaborating.
After arriving in Yemen, she studied Arabic and Islam and taught English in private institutes, her lawyer said.
Berman said authorities have not allowed Giddins’ two children, who are 5 and 7 years old, to leave their home in Yemen’s capital, San’a.