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US plans to strike Al Qaeda targets in Yemen

December 30, 2009 15:34 IST

The US is gearing up to attack Al Qaeda targets in Yemen possibly in retaliation to the failed attempt to bomb a US plane on Christmas Day, believed to have masterminded by extremists operating in that country.

The strike, media reports said, is being planned in association with the Government of Yemen.

While no decision in this regard has been taken at the level of US President Barack Obama, officials said, they are gearing up for such a move given that intelligence agencies are increasingly concluding that the Al Qaeda in Yemen was responsible for the strike.

The Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in messages posted on various radical websites on December 28, had claimed responsibility for the December 25 attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight that could have killed nearly 300 people.

Several US agencies have authenticated the message.

CNN said US special operations forces and intelligence agencies, and their Yemeni counterparts, are working to identify potential Al Qaeda targets in Yemen.

"This is part of a new classified agreement with Yemeni government that the two countries will work together and that the US will remain publicly silent on its role in providing intelligence and weapons to conduct strikes," it said.

The Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the wing of the Al Qaeda operating in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, led by Nasir Wuhaishi, a Yemeni who was once a close aide to Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Experts say that the AQAP comprises several hundred fighters. The group is said to have found sanctuaries among a number of Yemeni tribes, particularly in the eastern provinces.

The New York Times official said the administration was "increasingly confident" that the Al Qaeda had a role in the attack, as the group's Yemeni branch has publicly claimed.

The Washington Post said the new information obtained by the government indicates "some linkage" with the Al Qaeda.

Obama was briefed about it on Tuesday by his top national security aides in a secured conference call.

The new information "had to do with information that was in possession of the government... that spoke to both where the suspect had been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were", a senior official was quoted as saying by the Post.

According to the daily, the official said the details had not been correlated as effectively as they had been in earlier instances of thwarted attacks, especially preceding the arrest of young Afghan, Najibullah Zazi, who sought to build bombs after visiting an Al Qaeda training camp.

In the last six-seven months the US has "dramatically increased" its attention on Yemen, as al Qaeda is increasingly looking at places as an alternative to Af-Pak region because of the renewed US pressure here, a senior Administration official said.

"As a result of increased pressure on the Al Qaeda in South Asia, we're mindful of the fact that the Al Qaeda will want to develop additional operations and locations and Yemen has been one of those," the official said.

The latest intelligent information gathered indicated there is link between the attack and the Al Qaeda in Yemen.

"You have heard us say before, and you've heard the president say, including up at West Point, that we are going to keep the pressure on the Al Qaeda and its affiliates -- be that in East Africa or the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, Southeast Asia, or as I indicated earlier, right here at home in terms of the Zazi and Headley business," the official said.

However, he did not respond to question if there was a US attack being planned at Al Qaeda targets in Yemen.

"I think it's fair to say -- with trips there of important administration officials -- we've underscored to the Yemeni government that we're strongly supportive of their efforts against the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and others that wish not only them harm, but wish us harm," he said.

"Exactly what form that increased support will take is -- obviously includes things like training and increased military and economic assistance," he said.
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