Yemen vows to strike Qaeda until threat remains

Yemen will hit back at Al-Qaeda for as long as it poses a threat to the state, the interior minister warned, as the Islamist group denied six of its leaders were killed.

By (AFP)

Published: Mon 18 Jan 2010, 7:27 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:40 AM

“These strikes will not be the last as long as terrorist elements target state security and stability and institutions,” said Major General Mutahar Rashad al-Masri, quoted on Monday by the state news agency Saba.

The minister, speaking at a weekend conference on security, said Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), had suffered heavy losses, including the death of a number of its leaders.

The interior ministry said on Saturday that AQAP military boss Qassem al-Rimi was among six leaders of the group killed in a Yemeni air strike the previous day in the eastern part of Saada province.

But Al-Qaeda has denied any of its members were killed in the raid, according to US monitoring group SITE Intelligence Group.

“None of the mujahedeen (fighters) were killed in that unjust and insidious raid; rather, some brothers were slightly wounded,” AQAP said in a statement on jihadist forums, according to SITE.

“The agent Yemeni government seeks through these pretences to prove a false victory, which it presents as gifts to (US President Barack) Obama and (British Prime Minister Gordon) Brown,” it said.

The AQAP statement, quoted by SITE, mocked an international conference which the British leader is due to host in London on January 27 on fighting extremism in Yemen.

The meeting was called days after the failed attempt on Christmas Day by a young Nigerian national to blow up a US passenger plane.

The alleged perpetrator, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is thought to have been trained in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of fugitive Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The interior ministry has so far put up on its website the photos of four of the six people said to have been killed, but it has provided no proof of their deaths.

A local tribal leader said gunmen presumed to be from AQAP had cordoned off the area, firing at any vehicle that tried to approach. Victims of the air strike had probably been evacuated, whether dead or alive, he said.

According to the SITE report, AQAP called on Muslims to “declare jihad against the infidels and their agent helpers, not only on the ground, but in the sea and air as well.”

It noted the presence of foreign warships in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea.

“As they declared it to be an open war on the people of Islam, we must declare an open war against the Crusaders and their traitor helpers,” Al-Qaeda said.

Yemen is under US pressure to clamp down on Al-Qaeda, and analysts say the government of the impoverished state is keen to show the world it can crush the militants on its own.

In December, it claimed to have killed more than 60 AQAP militants in two separate air strikes.

Yemen on Saturday also announced the arrest of another three suspected Al-Qaeda members near the Saudi border.

That followed the capture earlier this month of three militants believed to be behind threats against Western interests in Sanaa that caused embassies to close for several days.

The government “wants to avoid a foreign military intervention targeting Al-Qaeda,” said Adel al-Ahmadi, a Yemeni specialist on the group.

“Yemen is trying to say that it can accomplish the mission on its own, and just needs logistical assistance ... and political support to consolidate its regime in the face of local adversaries.”

Separately, a Yemeni minister called on the United States to send home the estimated 91 remaining Yemenis being held at Guantanamo Bay.

On January 5, the White House said it had decided to suspend transfers of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Yemen, following the plane bombing plot.

“We are ready to rehabilitate them in such a way that they will return to a good path” in life “and not do anything that would hurt the security of Yemen,” Religious Affairs Minister Hammud al-Hattar told AFP.

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