The US on Friday called on Yemen to step up its fight against al--Qaeda and terrorism one year after a botched attempt to blow up a US passenger plane by a Nigerian with Yemeni links.
Counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan called Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh “to emphasize the importance of taking forceful action against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] in order to thwart its plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Yemen as well as in other countries, including in the US Homeland,” the White House said in a statement.
Brennan stressed the need for cooperation between the two countries, “including the timely acquisition of all relevant information from individuals arrested by Yemeni security forces.”
AQAP has been accused of being behind the attempted Christmas Day attack last year by a young Nigerian who had reportedly studied in Yemen.
It has taken credit for a foiled air cargo bomb plot in October, in which printer toner cartridges that had been rigged as bombs were shipped out of Sanaa and, according to investigators, set to explode over the US.
One of the leaders of the group — US-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, believed to be at large in Yemen’s vast and lawless tribal areas — is now viewed by Washington as a threat on par with al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden.
US officials have linked Awlaki to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who last Christmas tried to blow up a plane as it was landing in the US city of Detroit with explosives that he had sewn into his underwear.
Awlaki has also been linked to Major Nidal Hasan, who is has been charged with shooting dead 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas this year.
Yemen has mostly cooperated with the US in the global “war on terror,” reportedly allowing US forces to target alleged militants in rural areas with drone and missile strikes.
But relations were rattled last month when the WikiLeaks Web site released classified US diplomatic cables in which Saleh admitted lying to his own people by pretending the US strikes were carried out by his own forces.
“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh said in January talks with General David Petraeus, then-commander of US forces in the Middle East, according to the classified cable.
Earlier this month Brennan downplayed the report, saying there was a “healthy tension” in the relationship and that he had “animated” conversations with Saleh.
Brennan on Friday placed an “inter-agency coordination call” with representatives from the counter-terrorism community to review the threat risk during the holiday season, “including enhanced security measures and close coordination with foreign partners,” the White House said in a statement.
An Islamic extremist has threatened to set off terrorist bombs in countries celebrating Christmas, the SITE monitoring group said on Friday, while in the Philippines, a bomb blast injured six people in a church on an island known to be the bastion of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.