Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yemen FM confirms US secret air strikes on Qaeda in May

DUBAI — Yemen's foreign minister acknowledged the United States has launched attacks on Al-Qaeda in his country in an interview published on Thursday, the first confirmation from Sanaa of a US military role.

Abu Bakr al-Kurbi told the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat that the US strikes were suspended in December because his government viewed them as having been unsuccessful.

"Fighting Al-Qaeda is the responsibility of security and anti-terrorism forces in Yemen," Kurbi said.

However, the New York Times reported in mid-August that the US military carried out a secret air strike in May against a suspected Al-Qaeda target in Yemen, killing a deputy provincial governor in the process.

According to the paper, the strike was a secret mission by the US military, and was at least the fourth such assault on Al-Qaeda in the mountains and deserts of Yemen since December.

The United States operates a major counter-terrorism base in Djibouti just across the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait from Yemen.

In June, human rights watchdog Amnesty International released images it said were of fragments of a US Tomahawk cruise missile, reportedly taken at the scene of a December 17 strike in Al-Majalah in Abyan province in the south of Yemen, in which it said 55 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

The White House said US President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan visited Yemen on September 20 and discussed cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

The United States has become increasingly concerned about the threat posed by Islamist militancy in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, particularly the activities of his jihadist network's local franchise, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In the interview, Kurbi also said that while Yemen had launched a manhunt for US-born jihadist preacher Anwar al-Awlaqi, who is on a US most-wanted list, it would not hand him over if it succeeded in capturing him.

"Awlaqi is in an area where we are conducting operations against Al-Qaeda, and he is among those targeted for arrest in these operations," the Yemeni foreign minister said.

"The US has already requested the extradition of other Yemenis holding US citizenship, but we refused because the Yemeni constitution prohibits the extradition of a Yemeni citizen to a third country. This applies to Awlaqi."

In April, a US official said the Obama administration had authorised the targeted killing of Awlaqi, after intelligence agencies concluded the Muslim cleric was directly involved in anti-US plots.

Born in the southwestern US state of New Mexico, Awlaqi, 39, rose to prominence last year after he was linked a US army major who shot dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, and to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, faces a growing threat from Al-Qaeda, a sporadic Zaidi Shiite rebellion in the north and a separatist movement in the south. AFP

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