Yemen says bomber of US destroyer Cole still detained

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SANAA, Oct 26 (Reuters) Yemen denied today media reports that a man convicted over the al Qaeda bombing of the US Navy ship Cole in 2000 had been set free.

The United States said on Friday it would be ''disturbing'' if reports that Jamal Badawi had been released from prison in Yemen turned out to be true and that it would press the Yemeni government on the issue.

A Yemeni Interior Ministry source said Badawi was still detained, in comments carried by a Web site (www.26sep.net) that is close to the government. An Interior Ministry official contacted by Reuters declined to give more details.

Badawi, whose death sentence had been commuted to 15 years in prison over the attack that killed 17 US sailors in the southern port of Aden, is one of 23 inmates who escaped from a jail in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2006.

That prompted the United States to offer a 5 million dollars reward for information leading to his arrest, the FBI Web site said.

Badawi turned himself in about two weeks ago and his relatives told Reuters on Friday his sentence had been commuted to house arrest and they had visited him at his Aden home.

But a security official told Reuters that Badawi was in prison and not under house arrest.

Badawi was one of the key planners of the attack on the destroyer Cole.

Yemen, a poor country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula that is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, is viewed in the West as a haven for Islamist militants.

It has had several deadly attacks on Western targets and tourists including the bombing of a French oil tanker in 2002.

Reuters GT DB2237

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