President Barack Obama plans to give the Treasury Department authority on Wednesday to freeze U.S.-based assets of anyone who “obstructs" implementation of the Washington-backed political transition in Yemen, the Washington Post reported late on Tuesday.
Administration officials said an executive order to be issued by Obama would also apply to U.S. citizens who engaged in activity deemed a threat to Yemen’s security or political stability, the report said.
The order does not include a list of names or organizations already determined to be in violation, the report said. One official said it was designed as a “deterrent” to “make clear to those who are even thinking of spoiling the transition” to think again, the Post reported.
The official was authorized to discuss the order on the condition of anonymity, the report said.
Washington has stepped up its drone attacks in Yemen since President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February amid an al-Qaeda-fuelled rebellion in the south, and the Pentagon said this week it had recently resumed sending military trainers into the Gulf Arab country, according to Reuters.
Washington backed a power transfer plan that made Hadi the successor to President Ali Abdullah Saleh after a year of mass protests which coincided with a split in the army that threatened to erupt into civil war.
The deal stipulates the new president should lead Yemen through a two-year period in the hope that the impoverished nation will be able to use that time to end political chaos.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s leader has released a 17-minute audio address aimed at swaying public opinion against Yemen’s new president, calling him a U.S. agent and a traitor.
Ayman al-Zawahri attacked President Hadi for serving as vice president during the “corrupt rule” of deposed leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“Out went a (U.S.) agent and in came an agent,” al-Zawahri says, according to The Associated Press.
The audio was put online Tuesday, the same day that Yemen’s military announced that U.S. troops were working directly with them in a major offensive against the militant network.
Yemen’s military on Tuesday ramped up its offensive against al-Qaeda in the country’s restive south, launching ground and air assaults that reportedly killed at least 53 people, including 12 civilians.
The town of Jaar in Abyan province was pounded by air strikes which killed 13 extremists and 12 civilians, while battles raged in Loder, another Abyan town the jihadists have been wrestling to control, leaving another 12 al-Qaeda operatives dead, AFP reported citing witnesses and tribal leaders.
Eight militiamen fighting against al-Qaeda as well as eight soldiers also died in Loder, militia and military officials said.
Troops on Saturday launched a multi-pronged assault aimed at recapturing Qaeda-held towns and cities across Abyan, including the regional capital Zinjibar.
On Tuesday, the military called in air strikes against targets in Jaar, five days after dropping leaflets warning civilians to stay clear of al-Qaeda hideouts.
A first strike killed two al-Qaeda suspects while the 12 civilians, part of a group who had gathered around the residence right after the attack, died in a second raid soon after, witnesses said.
A later attack by the air force killed another 11 jihadists, a local source and residents said.
Meanwhile, 12 other militants were killed in battles that raged northeast in Loder, tribes said.
Loder is the only Abyan town besides Mudia still not under the control of the extremists, who overran Zinjibar in May last year.
Tuesday’s deaths bring to around 90 the number of people killed since the military launched its offensive.
Tribal sources said Monday the battles had seen 37 militants killed in two days, but AFP could not independently verify the toll.
A military official said on condition of anonymity that 12 soldiers have been killed since the operation was launched Saturday. But the defense ministry news website 26sep.net put the toll at six dead.
John Brennan, Obama’s top counter-terrorism aide held talks in Sana’a on Sunday with Yemeni President Hadi.
Their discussions revolved around “combatting terrorism” and attempts by Yemen to crush the local branch of al-Qaeda, state news agency Saba reported.