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Yemen moves on al Qaeda - sources

USS Cole
U.S. officials believe bin Laden was behind the USS Cole attack  

SAN'A, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemeni security forces pursued suspected members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network in two locations Tuesday, sources told CNN.

The sources said Yemeni special forces were sent to Bayhan and Abidha on information provided by intelligence operations.

No al Qaeda members were captured, but the people believed to have been hosting them in Bayhan were arrested, the sources said. The special forces were looking for one or two people in that location.

In Abidha, a gunfight erupted between the Yemeni forces and those suspected of harboring the al Qaeda members. Sources said people were killed and injured, but had no information on how many or who those casualties were.

Reuters reported that their sources said 12 people were killed and at least 22 others were wounded when Yemeni forces used helicopters and tanks against the al-Jalal tribe in an area called al-Husoun in the Marib area about 140 kms (84 miles) east of the capital San'a.

Yemen's interior ministry issued a warning against hiding suspected al Qaeda members and called for cooperation in the hunt for those believed to have fled.

Yemeni authorities have issued a deadline to turn the suspects over.

It was the first time that Yemen has resorted to military action against supporters of bin Laden. Yemen said earlier this month it was hunting down two senior tribesmen that the U.S. suspects of being key agents of bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Yemen was the scene of the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors. U.S. officials believe bin Laden was behind the suicide bombing.

Since September 11, cooperation between San'a and Washington has been increasing.

Three weeks ago, President Bush met Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh at the White House.

In October a U.S. official said Yemen had "one of the most significant" al Qaeda organisational links in the world, composed mostly of Yemenis who received military training in Afghanistan.

Diplomatic sources then told CNN that thousands of veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war are living in Yemen and were capable of launching "uncoordinated or coordinated attacks."

Yemen's government said it kept a close eye on these so-called "Arab-Afghans," some who lead lawful lives. The government also said it has deported about 5,000 non-Yemeni Arabs, including Arab-Afghan fighters, since 1998, the year of the embassy bombings.

While some Yemenis who fought the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan are recognized as senior opposition politicians, other "Arab-Afghans" were said to be a focus of a Yemeni government crackdown.

In October the government said it has held many for questioning, including anyone travelling to and from Pakistan, which a U.S. official describes as "a door" to Afghanistan for al Qaeda sympathizers.

FBI agents stayed behind in San'a to continue investigations into the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.

One diplomatic source said in October there may be suspects in San'a linked to people behind the attacks in the United States

One link was said to be Khalid al-Midhar.

Al-Midhar has been identified by the U.S. Justice Department as one of the three hijackers on board American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.


• Yemen parliament

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