SAN’A, Yemen – Yemeni forces raided an al-Qaida hideout and set off a gunbattle Wednesday as the government vowed to eliminate the group that claimed it was behind the Christmas bombing attempt on a U.S. airliner.
The fighting took place in an al-Qaida stronghold in western Yemen, haven for a group that attacked the U.S. Embassy here in 2008, killing 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians. A government statement said at least one suspected militant was arrested during the clashes.
“The (Interior) Ministry will continue tracking down al-Qaida terrorists and will continue its strikes against the group until it is totally eliminated,” Deputy Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Saleh al-Zawari told senior military officials at a meeting in Mareb, another province believed to shelter al-Qaida fighters.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s group, claimed it was behind the attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner. Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old passenger, was arrested Friday after he allegedly tried to bring down the Northwest Airlines flight, carrying 289 people.
U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen. Yemen’s government has said Abdulmutallab spent two periods in the country, from 2004 to 2005 and from August to December of this year, just before the attempted attack.
Abdulmutallab’s Yemen connection has drawn attention to al-Qaida’s growing presence in the impoverished and lawless country, which is located on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.
Wednesday’s clashes took place in Hudaydah province, an al-Qaida stronghold along the Red Sea coast. A security official said the target was a house owned by an al-Qaida sympathizer. The official said the owner was arrested, a suspected al-Qaida member was injured and several militants who fled were being pursued. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.