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Yemen denies foreign troops fighting Qaeda

Qaeda is Yemen’s main challenge: Yemeni president

Published:

Yemen denied on Sunday that foreign forces are involved in its battle against al-Qaeda, as Sanaa's security forces went on high alert after eight soldiers were killed by suspected jihadists.

"We are surprised at groundless allegations in several media reports lately on the presence of British soldiers and on the arrival of U.S. forces to aid in fighting terror in Yemen," the defense ministry's 26sep.net news website quoted a Yemeni official as saying.

The official said that Yemen's cooperation with the "United States or other countries" in fighting terrorism is "restricted to the exchange of information which facilitates its hunt (for) terrorist elements and handing them over to justice."

Suspected al-Qaeda militants have carried out several attacks in past weeks against Yemeni soldiers, the latest of which killed eight soldiers and a civilian in the town of Jaar in the southern Abyan province on Saturday, according to a security official.

The interior ministry had on Saturday called for tighter security at intelligence headquarters throughout the country and said it had put security units on alert.

The ministry, in a statement posted on its website, stressed "the importance of increasing security vigilance and deploying patrols in the capital and the provinces, in addition to tightening security measures on vital facilities and buildings."

US increased concerns over Qaeda in Yemen

An unnamed U.S. counter-terrorism official had told AFP Wednesday that the United States was increasingly concerned about the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Yemen and that it was moving to pile pressure on the militants.

He said al-Qaeda affiliates had regrouped in Yemen and emerged as a "virulent" danger.

The U.S. official spoke following reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post citing U.S. officials as saying that the new assessment of the threat raised the prospect of expanded U.S. operations in Yemen, including CIA drone strikes.

Yemen has intensified its military campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group's local franchise, since December, mainly after the Christmas Day botched attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had spent time in Yemen.

The U.S. military conducted a secret air strike in May against a suspected group of al-Qaeda militants in the remote desert of Marib province, the New York Times reported earlier this month, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

Security forces on Friday meanwhile arrested an alleged al-Qaeda member in south Yemen, 26sep.net reported.

The man had fled from the Abyan province town of Loder following deadly clashes between suspected Al-Qaeda militants and the army last week, the report said.

At least 33 people, including 19 militants, 11 soldiers, and three civilians were killed in the Loder battle, according to an AFP tally based on official and medical sources.

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Sanaa has suspended "all non-essential travel outside of Sanaa for embassy personnel... as a result of continuing threats from AQAP and its affiliates," it said in an online statement posted this week.

"American citizens travelling to or residing in Yemen should maintain a sense of heightened vigilance," the embassy added.

The embassy "also advised its personnel to avoid areas with significant crowds... where large numbers of foreigners gather, and large cultural or other events without a visible security presence."

"Enhanced security awareness also includes varying routes and times of movements to and from work."

Qaeda Yemen's biggest challenge

Yemen's president says intensifying al-Qaida attacks are his government's biggest challenge.

Ali Abdullah Saleh compared a recent wave of attacks on his security forces to the violence against government forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Speaking at a mosque Saturday, the president appealed to religious clerics and Yemen's people to back him in the fight.

Hours earlier, al-Qaeda gunmen struck an army patrol in the southern city of Jaar, killing eight soldiers and setting their bodies on fire.

Saleh said the battle against al-Qaeda was the "worst phase" of the government's effort to bring order to the country. The government controls little beyond the capital. Besides al-Qaeda, it faces a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.

South Yemen, especially Abyan province, is feared to have become a base for al-Qaeda militants to regroup under AQAP.

The country is the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.