SANAA — US military intervention in Yemen to help fight Al-Qaeda militants could backfire and strengthen the jihadists believed behind the botched attack on a US airliner, a top Yemeni official said Thursday.
“Any intervention or direct (military) action by the United States could strengthen the Al-Qaeda network and not weaken it,” deputy prime minister for defence and security affairs Rashed Al-Aleemi told a press conference.
“Our position is clear; we will fight and chase the Al-Qaeda group depending on Yemeni forces and security agencies (alone),” he said.
Aleemi however said that Yemen needs the United States to help in training Yemeni counter-terrorism units.
“Since Al-Qaeda is a global organisation that threatens international stability, all countries in the world, headed by the United States, must cooperate to confront them,” he said.
“All we need from the United States is training and providing weapons and equipment to counter-terrorism units and they are capable of liquidating Al-Qaeda and all terror elements,” Aleemi said.
He said Sanaa’s security cooperation with Washington is based on the exchange of information. The same applies to Saudi Arabia, he added.
Long-standing concerns that Yemen, a country on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, has become a haven for Islamic terror groups were thrown into sharp focus when a Nigerian man allegedly trained in Yemen was charged with trying to blow up a US-bound jet.
The botched Christmas Day attack was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which also urged attacks on Western interests in Yemen.
Aleemi said that the alleged assailant, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had met with radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi while in Yemen.
“The Nigerian hid in Shabwa area in Wadi Rafadh (east of Sanaa) where he met Awlaqi and Mohammad Omair who was killed in the air raid on Wadi Rafadh,” he said.
Yemeni jets staged an air raid on December 24 on Wadi Rafadh, in Shabwa province, about 650 kilometres (400 miles) east of Sanaa. Officials said 34 suspected Al-Qaeda militants were killed.
The United States has accused Awlaqi of terrorist links and said that Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist accused of shooting dead 13 people at the Fort Hood base in November, had also been in contact with the cleric.
Abdulmutallab had disappeared in Yemen between September 24 and December 7, while authorities said they were investigating how he managed to leave the country after overstaying his visa.
Aleemi added that based on investigations, the explosives found on the 23-year-old alleged bomber came from Nigeria and not from Yemen as previously reported.
Abdulmutallab was on Wednesday indicted on six counts arising out of the thwarted plot to blow up a Northwest airliner packed with 279 passengers and 11 crew as it approached Detroit, Michigan.
In the wake of the failed attack, General David Petraeus, the US regional military commander, went to Sanaa for talks with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Petraeus, according to the Saba news agency, reaffirmed Washington’s support for Yemen in its efforts to fight terrorism and delivered a message from President Barack Obama related in particular to bilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism and piracy.
A group of top US lawmakers on Wednesday urged Obama to ramp up aid to Yemen’s military, saying they had lost trust in the country’s ability to be a strong partner against terrorism.
“We no longer have confidence that the Yemeni government has the capacity to assist the United States in providing for our nation?s security,” the senior Republicans on five key committees urged Obama in a letter.
Yemeni security forces insist they are winning the war against the jihadists, pointing to two separate air raids on their lairs in December which killed more than 60 suspected Al-Qaeda members.
On Wednesday, Yemeni officials announced the capture of a key Al-Qaeda leader and two other militants believed behind threats against Western interests in Sanaa that caused embassies to close for several days.
The interior ministry also said its security forces were repeatedly raiding hideouts of “terrorist elements” in several provinces and had turned their “fight against terrorism into a daily confrontation.”
“Al-Qaeda elements are no longer the ones taking the initiative in deciding the time and place of confrontations,” it said.