Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has either freed or pardoned a total of 146 men suspected of links with the al-Qaeda Islamic extremist network, the official SABA news agency said yesterday.
The agency said Saleh ordered the release of 92 Islamists suspected of links with al-Qaeda after they swore not to attack non-Muslims or foreign embassies in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.
And a further 54 al-Qaeda suspects who surrendered to the authorities have been pardoned by the president, SABA said.
"The security authorities will start from today to release 92 people accused of links to al-Qaeda under orders from the president to free them in light of the results of a dialogue through the committee of ulemas [Islamic scholars]," SABA said, quoting judge Hammoud al-Hatar.
The men had vowed to "give up violence and extremism ... to respect the rights of non-Muslims and not to try to kill or attack them and not to attack the embassies of brother states and friends," Hatar said.
Among the 54 who gave themselves up was Khaled Abdennabi, an Islamist radical leader who heads the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army and the Islamic Jihad group in Yemen, which are believed to have ties to al-Qaeda.
Abdennabi recently hosted a dinner for security chiefs who had cracked down on his gunmen in the province of Abyan in June.
The Yemeni interior ministry announced in June that security forces had killed six extremists and arrested 11 others in Jabal Hatat, 120km northwest of the southern Yemeni port city of Aden.
A police official said that Abdennabi, 35, was one of the six killed.
But authorities said last month that the charred body turned out to be that of a Saudi and that Abdennabi had in fact surrendered.
Hatar, who heads the committee of ulemas set up a year ago to talk with extremists, said the releases and pardons "crown the policy of the president to settle ideological problems through dialogue."
"Dialogue with others [gunmen] suspected of links to al-Qaeda and who are not in prison ... is giving positive results," he added.
Of the 36 Islamists freed last year but kept under surveillance as part of the same process, all had "honored their vows to give up extremism and violence," the judge said.
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been under pressure from Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US to crack down on its presumed al-Qaeda militants.