Yemeni president says intensifying al-Qaida attacks are government’s biggest challenge

By Ahmed Al-haj, AP
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yemen says al-Qaida is government’s main challenge

SAN’A, Yemen — Yemen’s president said intensifying al-Qaida attacks are his government’s biggest challenge, though his military leaders refused Sunday to accept the intervention of foreign troops.

Al-Qaida attacks have hammered Yemeni security forces in the country’s mountainous south, where powerful tribes sympathetic to the militants and wary of the government have given them shelter.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose government has little control outside the capital, compared the recent attacks to the violence against government forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an address at a mosque on Saturday, he appealed for religious clerics and Yemen’s people to back him in the fight.

“Our people … should foil this plot,” he said. “The citizens should stand by the side of the state. These terrorists … are harming the nation’s and the citizens’ interests.”

Hours earlier, al-Qaida gunmen struck a security patrol in the southern city of Jaar, killing eight soldiers and setting their bodies on fire, Deputy Governor Ahmed Ghalib el-Rawi said on Sunday. Al-Qaida attacks have killed dozens of Yemeni soldiers in recent months.

Last week, U.S. officials said the White House was considering deploying the CIA’s armed Predator drones to Yemen to be operated by American special forces troops already there to assist the country’s counterterrorism units.

Washington considers the terror network’s Yemen-based offshoot, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to be a major threat. The group claimed responsibility for the December attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, linking the plot to Yemen’s cooperation with the U.S. military in strikes on al-Qaida targets.

Yemen is also home to U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have helped inspire the December airline plot and other attacks in the U.S.

The U.S. has shared intelligence and provided financial aid and training to Yemeni forces, generating backlash among Yemenis who feel their government is too closely allied with America.

The Yemeni government’s other main security threats are periodic flare-ups in a northern rebellion that last year drew in Saudi Arabia’s military for several weeks as well as a growing secessionist movement in the south.

President Saleh said the al-Qaida threat was the most troublesome. “This remains the last phase, which is the worst phase,” Saleh said.

A former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden now living in Yemen, Nasser Ahmed al-Bahri, said in an interview on Wednesday that the recent attacks demonstrated al-Qaida was growing stronger. He said Yemeni authorities will likely need outside intervention to stay in power.

A newspaper published by the Defense Ministry said Sunday that the government would not accept the presence of foreign forces.

The Interior Ministry, which is also responsible for security, said Sunday it has raised the level of alert for its forces across the country and increased the number of patrols.

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