- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SAN’A, Yemen (AP) — The Yemeni army destroyed five homes suspected of hiding al Qaeda militants Tuesday as a siege of a southern village entered its second day, but officials denied reports that U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was among those surrounded.

Government forces have moved into the village of Hawta with tanks and armored vehicles and thousands of people have fled the area to escape the fighting, which is part of the government’s U.S.-backed campaign to uproot the terror network’s local offshoot.

Security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media, said the homes that were destroyed were empty.

An unofficial website run by government opponents, Alganob.net, reported that al-Awlaki had been surrounded.

But the chief municipal official, Atiq Baouda, and the security officials denied that he was in the area under siege. The Yemeni army refused to comment on the operation.

Al-Awlaki played a key part in the failed terrorist Christmas Day attempt to take down a Detroit-bound passenger jet.

Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemen Embassy in Washington, said the operation was in response to a recent attempted attack on a liquefied natural gas pipeline line.

He said the military had surrounded the area and was cutting off access in and out of the town.

“Most likely they’ll enter the area in the next 24 hours,” Mr. Albasha said.

He said the operation has nothing to do with al-Awlaki.

“His hometown is hundreds of miles away,” Mr. Albasha said.

Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report from Washington.