- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010

SAN’A | A Yemeni air raid against a terrorist cell in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula nation has killed two senior al Qaeda members, the Defense Ministry said early Monday.

“Our air force carried out a raid on terrorist elements who were planning attacks on vital installations [and] two Al Qaeda leaders were killed,” said a statement on the Defense Ministry’s Web site. The statement also was disseminated by the Yemeni Embassy in the U.S.

The statement did not specify what installations were being targeted, but said that the air strike happened in Moudia region — around 300 miles southeast of San’a — which is close to the oil-rich province of Shabwa.

The Yemenis also did not name the dead terrorists, but U.S.-born imam Anwar al-Awlaki is widely thought to be in Yemen. U.S. intelligence officials have said al-Awlaki was in regular e-mail correspondence with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting suspect, and personally blessed the suicide mission of airline plot suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Yemeni authorities have intensified their campaign against the country’s al Qaeda branch after it claimed credit for Mr. Abdulmutallab’s purported Christmas Day bid to blow up a U.S. passenger plane over Detroit.

Earlier this month, a security official said 11 men were arrested in the capital, San’a on suspicion of plotting attacks for al Qaeda, which has previously targeted Western embassies in the city.

Security forces arrested three suspected al Qaeda members Feb. 17 in Marib province, and on Jan. 16 the authorities announced the arrest of three other suspected al Qaeda militants.

The previous day, an air strike killed six al Qaeda leaders, including the group’s top commander in Yemen, Qassem al-Rimi, officials said. And two days before that, a Yemeni official said security forces killed Abdullah Mehdar, an al Qaeda leader in Shabwa province in the east.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, said last month that Yemen is the one part of the Middle East where al Qaeda remains a growing threat.

“Our assessment is that over the course of the last year or so, al Qaeda has been diminished in that area,” Gen. Petraeus said, referring to his zone of command stretching from East Africa through the Middle East.

The U.S. has supplied Yemen with intelligence and other support in its operations against al Qaeda.

In January, a group of Yemeni clerics called for a jihad, or a holy war, if the U.S. undertook direct military intervention.

“If any party insists on aggression, or invades the country, then according to Islam, jihad becomes obligatory,” the clerics said.

President Obama has said he has “no intention” of sending American troops into Yemen, the ancestral home of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

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