Hunting al-Qaeda Is bin Ladenhiding in Yemen? [Archives:2002/48/Front Page]
For much of the past year, particularly since Tora Bora caves were crushed by U.S B-52 bombers last November, it was assumed by many that Osama bin Laden was dead.
However recent audio tapes reported to be from the al-Qaeda leader, appear authentic according to experts. And this week American officials suggested strongly they believe the al-Qaeda ringleader could be in Yemen.
U.S. officials have also suggested the noose might be tightening around bin Laden, now believed to be in southeast Yemen where his father was born.
It translates into an increased American presence here. Six other al-Qaeda members were killed in a rocket attack in Yemen by a U.S. Predator drone two weeks ago.
It’s no co-incidence the US has assembled an unusual collection of elite soldiers and capabilities in the area should President Bush decide to act.
Sources say the CIA is running the operation and has its own small paramilitary force in the area.
Since the United States drove so many al Qaeda fighters out of Afghanistan, American officials have been increasingly concerned that Yemen would become a safe haven and “underground railroad” for terrorists on the run.
Yemen said this week its security forces were looking for a suspected al Qaeda member who narrowly escaped the missile attack by an unmanned CIA plane that killed six of his comrades on Nov. 3.
In the first apparent admission of Yemeni consent over the strike, Yemen’s Interior Minister Rshad al-Alimi said: “This operation was carried out…as part of security coordination and cooperation between Yemen and the United States.”
Alimi also said in a statement carried by the state news agency Saba that the seventh al Qaeda member had left the car moments before it was hit by a missile in the eastern Marib province. He did not name the fugitive.
Yemeni opposition groups have strongly criticized the missile attack and the government’s earlier silence over it.
The main target of the November 3 attack, Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, was a key suspect in the bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in a Yemeni port in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors.
The statement identified four of the six men as Munir Ahmed Abdullah also known as Abu Ubaidah, Saleh Hussein Ali al-Zenu alias Abu Hammam, Owsan Ahmed al-Turaihi alis Abu al-Jarrah and Adel Nasser al Sowda, also known as Abu Osama.
The sixth man was earlier identified as Kamal Derwish, also known as Ahmed Hijazi, a U.S. citizen. U.S. media reports said he headed an al Qaeda-linked group in Lackawanna, New York.
In another incident, witnesses in the capital Sanaa said a blast apparently caused by a grenade tore through the house of a Yemeni security official on Tuesday, causing damage but no casualties.
Military sources say more than 800 special operations troops – including some from the secret Delta group that specializes in “snatches” of accused criminals on foreign soil – have been gathered in the nearby nation of Djibouti.
The U.S. force is being kept secure, sources say, within a French military base there – the largest such French facility outside of France.
Yemen officials have dismissed the notion that U.S. special forces would be used to hunt down suspected al Qaeda fugitives there, and asserted that only its own troops would be used.
“Yemen’s position is clear: Yemeni forces are the ones responsible for conducting any operations – be they searches or attacks,” a government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
He said U.S. involvement would be limited to training Yemeni security forces and sharing intelligence on Muslim militants.
Parts of Yemen remain beyond control of the central government, especially the vast eastern third of the country known as the Hadramawt. U.S. sources say Yemeni leaders are secretly negotiating over allowing an American operation within their borders. A further complication, officials say, is the constant movement of potential terrorist targets in Yemen.