Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Yemen kills 34 alleged extremists

LEADERSHIP TARGETED The head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was reportedly at the meeting, along with an imam linked to the gunman in the Fort Hood shootings

AGENCIES , SANA’A

Yemeni authorities say military operations targeting al-Qaeda hideouts have killed more than 34 suspected militants, including important leadership figures in the organization, in a dawn raid yesterday in a remote mountainous region of Shabwa Province.

Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee says airstrikes targeted an al-Qaeda leadership meeting held to organize terror attacks.

“The raid was carried out as dozens of members of al-Qaeda were meeting in Wadi Rafadh,” a security source said, referring to a rugged location about 650km east of the Yemeni capital.

The head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahishi and his deputy, Saeed al-Saudi Shahrani, were present at the meeting, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Members of the group’s leadership, including Saad al-Fathani and Mohammad Ahmed Saleh al-Omir, were among those killed,” he said.

The source was unable to say what had happened to Wahishi or his deputy, but he indicated that Omir had recently appeared in a video made of a public meeting in southern Abyan Province, which was later screened by al-Jazeera TV.

“Saudis and Iranians at the Wadi Rafadh meeting were also among the dead,” said the source, without going into detail.

A radical Muslim preacher linked by US intelligence to Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged gunman in the Food Hood shooting that killed 13 people, is believed to have died in the airstrike as well, a Yemeni security official said.

Hasan had contacts with Awlaki late last year, US authorities believe.

“Anwar al Awlaki is suspected to be dead [in the air raid],” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

“Yemeni forces launched the raid based on information from Yemeni citizens, who told authorities the location of the meeting in Wadi Rafadh,” another security source said.

A Yemeni official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that those attending the meeting “planned to launch terrorist attacks against economic installations in Yemen, in retaliation for Yemeni strikes launched last week.”

On Dec. 17, Yemeni forces struck suspected al-Qaeda hideouts and training sites, killing at least 34 militants. Witnesses, however, put the number killed at more than 60 in the heaviest strike and said the dead were mostly civilians.

The US has beefed up its military assistance to Yemen, which is troubled by a weak central government and a growing al-Qaeda presence.

Yesterday’s strike brings the Yemeni government’s tally of al-Qaeda members killed over the last eight days to 68.

More than 30 al-Qaeda members have been arrested since the Dec. 17 strike, the Yemeni defense ministry said.

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