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State Department backtracks on American arrests in Yemen

By Elise Labott, CNN State Department Producer
  • 12 Americans in custody in Yemen, but only 3 face terrorism charges, P.J. Crowley says
  • He had said Monday all 12 were detained for security reasons
  • U.S. is still seeking information from Yemen, Crowley says
  • He declined to say if U.S. provided information that led to the arrests

Washington (CNN) -- The State Department has revised its previous assessment that 12 Americans were arrested in Yemen on terrorism charges.

Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday that after checking with the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, officials found that although there are about 12 Americans in custody in Yemen for a variety of crimes, only three of those were arrested on terrorism charges.

Crowley said the three Americans had been arrested since the failed Christmas Day attempt to set off a bomb in a commercial airplane bound for the United States, but none of them were arrested in recent weeks. Officials have said that the suspect in the failed bombing had ties with Yemen-based militants.

"We are still seeking information ... from the Yemeni government as to whether there have been any new arrests," Crowley said. "We are not aware of any new arrests of Americans."

The United States has had consular access to all three Americans, Crowley said. He declined to say whether the U.S. government had provided information to Yemen about the Americans which led to their arrests.

"We are cooperating intensively with Yemen on counterterrorism matters," he said. "We have a mutual concern about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. I'm not going to get into the particulars of that cooperation, but we remain in contact with Yemen."

On Monday Crowley had said Yemen had detained a dozen Americans among a larger group of foreign students reportedly being held for security reasons. Earlier media reports indicated that as many as 50 students suspected of having connections with the Yemeni-based terror organization had been arrested last week. CNN has been unable to confirm those reports and Crowley said Tuesday he had no information about them.