American AQ agent in Yemen worked at nuclear plants

The first reports of Sharif Mobley’s involvement with al-Qaeda came from a shootout in Yemen, when Mobley unsuccessfully attempted to escape from custody at a hospital.  The news got more disturbing last night, when it became clear that the former New Jersey resident with dual Yemeni-American citizenship worked in at least three nuclear-power plants in the Garden State.  That has set off some speculation about Mobley’s work with the terrorist group, although the feds haven’t offered any theories as of yet:

An American charged in Yemen with being a member of Al Qaeda had worked at nuclear power plants in the U.S., a spokesman for a group of plants in New Jersey said Thursday. But a state official said the man did not breach security there.

Sharif Mobley, a 26-year-old natural-born U.S. citizen, was arrested in Yemen earlier this month and is accused of killing a guard in an attempt to break out of a hospital.

The FBI, the State Department and other authorities said they were trying to gather information about Mobley. But the allegations appeared to illustrate a phenomenon U.S. intelligence officials have warned about: American Muslims becoming radicalized and joining terrorist movements overseas.

The work continued over six years, with Mobley getting clearance as recently as 2008, just before he left the US to study Arabic and Islam abroad.  In terms of recruitment, this would have been a major win for AQ.  Mobley had passed security clearances in the past and knew the protocols to get past them.  Even if Mobley didn’t return to attack nuclear-power plants, that kind of background would have given him a boost to getting cleared for sensitive access in other trades.

But did AQ intend to attack nuclear power plants in the US with Mobley as its point person?  Fox News reports that their sources in “law enforcement” don’t see a link between his work before leaving the country and whatever AQ had in mind when it sent him back.  It could just be coincidental, as a trip toYemen to study Islam and Arabic would almost certainly have raised red flags in a recertification process.  Mobley may have been more valuable in supplying intel on security procedures rather than as a terrorist attacker.

Undoubtedly, AQ sees nuclear-power plants as a highly desirable target, despite their occasional enviro-freak posturing.  The fact is that we don’t have enough facts to say one way or the other, and speculation isn’t the same as fact.  He could just as easily been considered a potential assassin based on his access to political campaigns.  At the least, though, this should be considered a serious leak for nuclear security, and stations should adjust their protocols accordingly.