Airstrikes Target al-Qaida in Yemen
Edward Yeranian | Cairo 20 January 2010
Yemen says its fighter jets struck the home of a prominent al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist, the day after new international sanctions were announced against the group.
Yemeni government fighter jets launched a series of raids against the fortified compound of a prominent terrorist Ayad al-Shabwani, reportedly destroying the structure. Militants close to Shabwani claim he survived the raids.
Al-Jazeera TV showed images of the damaged compound, although it was not clear when they were taken. Missiles appear to have pierced a gaping hole on one side of the mud-brick fortress.
Yemen Post newspaper editor-in-chief Hakim Almasmari indicated air raids have been continuing throughout the day in a bid to kill Shabwani and fellow militants.
"Today, there have been 17 raids inside Maarib, most of them trying to attack Shabwani and his friends. They are still ongoing," he said. "Until now, there is only one al-Qaida leader killed. [Yemeni security forces] have troops on the ground, but doing nothing. Most of the attacks are from the air."
Eyewitnesses say a number of people have been killed in the raids and villagers using anti-aircraft guns are firing back at Yemeni warplanes.
The Yemeni government had reported last week that Shabwani and five other top al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists had been killed in an airstrike on three vehicles in which they were riding. But a statement from the terrorist group said Shabwani survived. The group's military chief, Qassem al-Raimi, does appear to have been killed.
In a related development, Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki, who is suspected of ties with Fort Hood bomber Nidal Malik Hassan, reportedly told a Yemeni journalist that he would not surrender. Hakim Almasmari says that Awlaki continues to deny being a member of al-Qaida.
"He refused any claims of being an al-Qaida member," he said. "He will not surrender himself, because he does not trust the government that they will not harm him. But he has some extreme ideas. He is in Shabwa province in Khor al-Awarib, very massive mountains in Shabwa that are very hard to reach and being guarded by his own tribesmen. His father is one of the five biggest politicians in Yemen."
Yemeni government TV reported Foreign Minister Abou Bakr al-Qurbi met in Washington with U.S. national security advisor General James Jones, as well as with CIA Director Leon Panetta. Qurbi, noted, according to the TV, that Yemen had "suffered a great deal from terrorism and will cooperate with the international community in curbing extremism, which threatens the security of the region and of the world."
Meanwhile, Britain has canceled flights to Yemen, indicating the safety of flights to the volatile country could no longer be assured.
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