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Yemeni forces move on al Qaeda

SAN'A, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemeni forces initiated an attack on Tuesday in an area of the country where authorities believe a member of al Qaeda is hiding, sources tell CNN.

Meanwhile Reuters reported that Yemeni troops moved against an area called al-Husoun in the Marib area, some 140 kms (84 miles) east of the capital San'a after a tribe refused to hand over a number of Islamists believed to belong to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization.

The Reuters sources said that Yemeni forces had used tanks and tribesmen returned fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

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Yemen was the scene of the attack on the USS Cole which 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 with 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 organizational 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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