Yemen security forces capture key Qaeda leader

Foreign missions reopen after threats


Yemeni security forces, under U.S. pressure to rein in extremists, Wednesday captured a key al-Qaeda leader believed behind threats that saw foreign embassies in Sana’a hastily bolting their doors, police said.

The arrest of Mohammed al-Hanq and two other suspected Al-Qaeda militants at a hospital in Raydah, north of capital, came as Yemen's authorities said al-Qaeda militants were being choked countrywide and forced into "holes."

Hanq had evaded arrest on Monday during a security force raid in Arhab, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Sana’a, in which two of his relatives were killed and three other people wounded

A security official told AFP security forces had Wednesday morning swooped on a hospital in Raydah, 80 kilometers (50 miles), north of Sana’a in Amran province, where the suspects were receiving treatment.

"Mohammed al-Hanq and two others who were wounded were captured in a hospital in Amran," the official said.

Two other al-Qaeda suspects meanwhile turned themselves in to the authorities in the region of Marib, east of Sana’a, on Wednesday, and a third surrendered in Arhab, a security official said.

Mohammed al-Hanq and two others who were wounded were captured in a hospital in Amran

Yemeni official

Raiding hideouts

The interior ministry said Wednesday its security forces were repeatedly raiding hideouts of "terrorist elements" in several provinces and had turned their "fight against terrorism into a daily confrontation."

"(Security operations) are not leaving the terrorist elements the chance to take a breath or reorganize their lines," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

"Al-Qaeda elements are no longer the ones taking the initiative in deciding the time and place of confrontations," it said, adding that "painful and recurring strikes have forced al-Qaeda to retreat to the holes."

The U.S. embassy closed on Sunday over security concerns prompted by fears of an al-Qaeda threat against foreign interests just days after a failed attack on a U.S. airliner claimed by the al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen.

Some countries, including Britain and France, followed suit while others curtailed consular operations as security was tightened around their missions.

The U.S. embassy reopened for business on Tuesday, saying that Yemeni security forces had addressed a "specific area of concern" the previous day -- thought to be a reference to the crackdown on Hanq's group.

The British and French embassies have also resumed operations, although the British mission's consular services remained shut on Wednesday.

Al-Qaeda elements are no longer the ones taking the initiative in deciding the time and place of confrontations

The Yemeni interior ministry

Into the foreground

Yemen, the poorest Arab country, was thrust into the foreground of the U.S.-led war against Islamist militants after a Yemen-based wing of al-Qaeda said it was behind a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane.

In the wake of the failed attack, General David Petraeus, the U.S. regional military commander, jetted into Sana’a for talks with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

At the same time, Yemen sent army reinforcements to the eastern provinces of Abyan, Bayada and Shawba, where al-Qaeda militants have hideouts, and raised the alert level in those regions.

On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton further upped the pressure on Yemen saying fighting in the impoverished country was a threat to regional and global stability.

Yemen has sent troop reinforcements to take part in a campaign against al-Qaeda in three provinces over the past four days, and one security source said forces had set up extra checkpoints on main roads.

The West and Saudi Arabia fear al-Qaeda will take advantage of Yemen's instability to spread its operations to the neighboring kingdom, the world's biggest oil exporter, and beyond. Yemen is a small oil producer.

Yemeni officials acknowledge the need for U.S. help with counter-terrorism, but say the government also lacks resources to tackle the poverty that widens al-Qaeda's recruiting pool.

Defense and counterterrorism officials say Washington has been quietly supplying military equipment, intelligence and training to Yemen to root out suspected al-Qaeda hide-outs.

Civil war and lawlessness have turned Yemen into an alternative base for al-Qaeda, which U.S. officials say has been largely pushed out of Afghanistan and is under military pressure from the Pakistani army in bordering tribal areas.