Al-Qaeda is taking advantage of political unrest in Yemen to plot new attacks, the country's foreign minister warned the West on Tuesday night.
By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent 05 Apr 2011
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirbi confirmed a major town near the vital southern port of Aden had fallen to al-Qaeda-backed rebel forces, and said the group was expanding its wider operations as the government was destabilised by clashes with protesters.
His warning came as American intelligence agencies said they believed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as the terrorist group's Yemen-based franchise calls itself, was planning a new terrorist assault on the West.
As the country descends into open conflict, with more people killed across the country on Monday and Tuesday, Britain joined urgent calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down.
"I am appalled by the reports of further deaths and casualties in Yemen on 4th and 5th April." the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said. "President Saleh should make clear he is ready to engage now in an inclusive process of political transition."
AQAP was responsible for attempts to send parcel bombs to the United States via cargo shipments through Britain and other countries last October, as well as a failed attack on an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
As unrest has worsened over recent weeks, the government has lost control of part of all of four provinces, including two, Shabwa and Abiyan, where AQAP has a strong presence. Dr al-Qirbi confirmed that the provincial town of Abiyan, Jaar, had fallen to presumed al-Qaeda-linked forces.
"There has been a government effort to dislodge them but I have no information on whether it was successful," he said.
"Obviously the extremists are taking advantage of the political unrest here," he added. "Al-Qaeda is trying to strengthen its position. This is what we are trying to prevent. But the existing political situation and disruption between the government and the opposition pretty much is an opportunity for AQAP."
US officials told the New York Times that counter-terrorism activities, in which Yemeni forces were receiving support from American and British forces, have "ground to a halt".
They also reiterated concerns that intelligence "chatter" from informants and electronic intercepts indicated AQAP was discussing a new terrorist attack on unknown western targets.
In a key statement on Monday night the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, gave the threat of al-Qaeda as a reason for Mr Saleh to step down. Mr Saleh has always presented himself as America's bulwark against terrorism in Yemen.
"That's one of the reasons why we urge political dialogue to take place and a timetable for this transition that President Saleh has talked about to be begun," Mr Carney said.
Mr Saleh has promised to stand down at the end of his current term of office, but opposition parties want his vice-president to lead an immediate handover of power while youth groups demand that all senior regime figures quit, including members of his extensive family.
At least 20 people died in clashes in the cities of Taiz, Hudeida and Sana'a, the capital, on Monday, and at least another three in Sana'a yesterday.
That incident was a particularly worrying sign of how close Yemen is slipping into a multi-sided civil war. The men shot were pro-Saleh tribesmen who were attempting to talk to the country's long-time security chief, a relative and former close ally of the president, Brigadier-General Ali Mohsen, who has recently sided with the demonstrators.
He in turn said the tribesmen were trying to assassinate him.
Source: The Telegraph