Shaea, a freelance journalist and a frequent commentator on Al-Jazeera, was sentenced in January 2011 to five years in prison for “belonging to an illegal armed organization” and “recruiting young people, including foreigners, to the organization by communicating with them via the Internet.”
In February, after social unrest erupted in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh pardoned Shaea among other prisoners, according to local news reports. In a phone call to Saleh, however, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern about Shaea’s release, according to a White House statement that did not elaborate on the reasons.
Shaea, known for his coverage of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, was critical of Yemen’s counterterrorism policies. Using his tribal affiliation to gain access, he conducted several interviews with senior members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In December 2009, Shaea interviewed the U.S.-born militant Anwar Awlaki for ABC News. Awlaki was killed in a September 2011 U.S. drone attack.
In 2012, international and local human rights groups and press freedom groups renewed their calls for the release of Shaea.