YEMEN CAPTURES MILITANTS

JANUARY 16 2010 18:14h

Yemen confirms Qaeda chiefs' deaths

Yemeni soldiers march during a military parade in Dhamar, 90 kms south of Sanaa, on January 16, 2010. Yemen confirmed on January 16 the death of six senior Al-Qaeda figures in an air strike a day earlier, while continuing its crackdown on the group by arresting three suspected militants.

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Yemen confirmed on Saturday the deaths of six senior Al-Qaeda figures in an air strike a day earlier.

Yemen confirmed on Saturday the deaths of six senior Al-Qaeda figures in an air strike a day earlier, while continuing its crackdown on the group by arresting three suspected militants.

There had been conflicting reports on Friday about the identities of those killed when a warplane targeted a three-vehicle convoy, and whether any of the eight people on the ground had escaped.

In a statement on its website, the interior ministry said Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) military boss Qassem al-Rimi died when a missile hit his vehicle in the eastern part of Saada province.

Also killed were Ayed al-Shabwani, Ammar al-Waili, Saleh al-Tais, Egyptian Ibrahim Mohammed Saleh al-Banna and an unidentified sixth person, the ministry said.

Late on Friday, after initially having said Waili and Tais had been killed, a senior official said they had escaped.

The ministry website did not refer to the fate of the remaining two people.

Rimi was among 23 people who had made a daring escape from a state security prison in Sanaa in February 2006 that left the Yemeni government red-faced, and he was on a list of 152 wanted suspects.

Banna, also known as Abu Aymen al-Masri, was said to be an "ideologist" of the group.

Meanwhile, the defence ministry announced the arrest on Saturday of three suspected Al-Qaeda members in the northern area of Alb, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

It identified them as Ahmed al-Razehi, Yasser al-Zubai and Ahmed al-Heemi. It said they were wearing military fatigues and carrying arms and explosives.

Saturday's arrests were the latest in a series of blows since late December, when Yemen's government launched its latest campaign against Al-Qaeda.

On Tuesday, security forces killed Abdullah Mehdar, said to be the group's kingpin in Shabwa province, east of the capital.

Provincial Governor Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi said dozens of fighters, including Saudis and Egyptians who had fled Afghanistan, were holed up in Shabwa.

Among them, he said, were current AQAP chief Nasser al-Wahaishi, his Saudi number two Saeed Ali al-Shehri and radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.

On January 6, officials announced the capture of key leader Mohammed al-Hanq and two other militants believed to be behind threats against Western interests in Sanaa that caused embassies to close for several days.

AQAP has claimed responsibility for the failed December 25 attack on a US airliner. Washington confirmed the Al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen was behind the attack and that it trained the Nigerian assailant, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Yemen is under US pressure to clamp down on Al-Qaeda, and analysts say that the government in the impoverished state is keen to show the world it can crush Al-Qaeda militants on its own.

Yemen "wants to avoid a foreign military intervention targeting Al-Qaeda," said Adel al-Ahmadi, a Yemeni specialist on the group.

"Yemen is trying to say that it can accomplish the mission on its own, and just needs logistical assistance... and political support to consolidate its regime in the face of local adversaries."

For Sanaa, the "successive and successful strikes carried out since December 17 prove that logistical and intelligence assistance is more effective" than direct intervention by foreign forces, said analyst Said Ali Obeid al-Jamhi.

The council of Yemeni clerics warned on Thursday of jihad, or holy war, if there is any foreign military intervention in the country.

An international conference on Yemen will be held in London on January 27.