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Tags: Yemen | air | strikes | qaida

Yemen Pounds Al-Qaida with Air Strikes

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 10:36 AM

SANAA — Yemeni jets pounded the home of a suspected Al-Qaeda leader Wednesday, an army source said, as the military stepped up pressure on the group believed behind a botched bid to down a US airliner.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meanwhile, announced in London the suspension of direct flights from Yemen until further security measures are agreed, in the wake of the Christmas Day Detroit bombing scare.

A Yemeni tribal source confirmed the air strikes in Erq Al-Shabwan village, in Maarib province, and said a number of people had been killed. Local forces were responding with anti-aircraft fire.

The wave of air strikes, which began in the morning, blasted the house of Ayed al-Shabwani, one of six Al-Qaeda leaders the government said were killed in an air strike last week, the tribal source said.

A military official, who would not be named, said there had been three strikes on the house and one on an orange grove near the village where the authorities think Shabwani had built a safe haven for dozens of Al-Qaeda members.

The official added that there had been a large deployment of government troops at the city of Maarib, about five kilometres (three miles) from Erq Al-Shabwan village.

During the afternoon, witnesses said, jets twice sent missiles smashing into the orange grove and afterwards continued to fly in the area.

The strikes come just days after Yemen said it killed six suspected leaders, including Shabwani, of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Saada province, north of the capital.

AQAP denied that anyone was killed in the attack on three 4X4 vehicles in a remote desert area, saying instead that some of its members had been wounded.

No one commented on whether the government now believed Shabwani had in fact survived that raid.

The government has also claimed that Qassem al-Rimi, the military leader of AQAP, was among those who died in the missile attack.

Rimi was among 23 people who had made a daring escape from a state security prison in Sanaa in February 2006 that left the Yemeni government red-faced, and he was on a list of 152 wanted suspects.

Yemen is under US pressure to clamp down on Al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the December 25 bid to blow up a flight from Amsterdam as it landed in Detroit.

British premier Brown said in a statement on counter-terrorism to the House of Commons on Wednesday that in the wake of the failed attack no more direct flights from Yemen would be allowed to land in Britain.

"We have agreed with Yemenia airlines -- pending enhanced security -- that they suspend their direct flights to the UK from Yemen with immediate effect," he said.

Yemen's government insists it is winning the battle against the jihadists, pointing to two air strikes in December which it said killed in all more than 60 suspected Al-Qaeda members.

On Saturday, the authorities announced the arrests of three suspected militants in the northern area of Alb, near the border with Saudi Arabia. They said the trio were wearing military fatigues and had guns and explosives.

On January 12, security forces killed Abdullah Mehdar, said to be the group's kingpin in Shabwa.

Provincial Governor Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi said dozens of fighters, including Saudis and Egyptians who had fled Afghanistan, were holed up in Shabwa.

Among them, he said, were current AQAP chief Nasir al-Wahishi, his Saudi number two Said al-Shihri, and radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.

It was not immediately clear if the orange grove outside Erq al-Shabwan was their hideout.

On Wednesday, a Yemeni journalist close to Awlaqi, Abdullah Shaea, said the cleric had told him he would not surrender and denied claims the government was negotiating with him in hopes he would give himself up.

The prospects of the married father of five being take alive are scant, given Shaea's description of sentiment in Shabwa after a deadly December 24 air raid there by government forces that killed Al-Qaeda suspects and a number of civilians.

After that raid, on an area controlled by the Awlaqi tribe, people were "furious" throughout the region. "They all went over to the side of Al-Qaeda and prevent anyone from approaching," Shaea said.

"There was fighting. The government well knows that if it sends forces into the area, they will be beaten. It will not even try. That is why Anwar is safe where he is."

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 10:36 AM
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