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Yemeni forces raid Al Qaeda hide-out, vow to wipe out terrorists

14 are reported dead in fighting

By Ahmed Al-Haj
Associated Press / December 31, 2009

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SANA, Yemen - Yemeni forces raided an Al Qaeda hide-out and set off a gun battle yesterday as the government vowed to eliminate the group that claimed responsibility for the Christmas bombing attempt on a US airliner.

The fighting took place in an Al Qaeda stronghold in western Yemen, haven for a group that attacked the US Embassy here in 2008, killing 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians. A government statement said at least one suspected militant was arrested during the clashes.

“The [Interior] Ministry will continue tracking down Al Qaeda terrorists and will continue its strikes against the group until it is totally eliminated,’’ Brigadier General Saleh al-Zawari, deputy interior minister, told senior military officials at a meeting in Mareb, another province believed to shelter Al Qaeda fighters.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s group, says it was behind the attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian passenger, was arrested Dec. 25 after he allegedly tried to bring down the Northwest Airlines flight, carrying 289 people.

US investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he had received training and instructions from Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Yemen’s government has said Abdulmutallab spent two periods in the country, about five years ago and from August to December of this year, just before the attempted attack.

Abdulmutallab’s Yemen connection has drawn attention to Al Qaeda’s growing presence in the impoverished and lawless country, which is on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.

Yesterday’s clashes took place in Hudaydah province, an Al Qaeda stronghold along the Red Sea coast. A security official said the target was a house owned by an Al Qaeda sympathizer. The official said the owner was arrested, a suspected Al Qaeda member was injured, and several militants fled. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

Before yesterday’s clashes, Yemeni forces backed by US intelligence officials had carried out two major strikes against Al Qaeda hideouts this month, reportedly killing more than 60 militants.

The United States has increasingly provided intelligence, surveillance, and training to Yemeni forces during the past year, and has provided some firepower, according to a senior US defense official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Yemen received $67 million in training and support under the Pentagon’s counterterrorism program last year, second only to some $112 million spent in Pakistan.