Al Qaeda battle in Yemen - sources
SANA'A, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemeni security forces are fighting their way into suspected al Qaeda hideouts, diplomatic sources told CNN.
The sources in Yemen said the fighting was "very significant" in light of fears that Yemen may become the next target if the U.S. widens its war on terrorism.
Earlier this year, a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official in the Middle East described Yemen as having "the second largest al Qaeda network outside of Afghanistan."
The suspects now being hunted, said diplomatic sources, had probably been in Yemen for some time.
The sources said the suspects were more likely to be wanted by the United States in connection with the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole when it docked in Yemen than to be anyone who had recently fled from Afghanistan.
The numbers of al Qaeda suspects now involved in fighting were probably "very small," but where they have the protection of tribal militias, the Yemeni authorities might have a "major battle on their hands," said sources.
"The government of Yemen seems to want to demonstrate it can do this kind of thing for themselves," said one diplomat.
Wednesday was the second day of fighting, diplomatic sources said. Yemeni authorities on Tuesday admitted a dozen people had been killed in skirmishes and about 20 more injured.
The fighting was taking place in two areas: Marib, east of the capital of San'a, and Shabwa, a province north of Marib, stretching towards the border with Saudi Arabia, diplomats said.
In Marib on Tuesday, a Yemeni patrol appeared to come under fire before responding with heavy weapons, according to reports from the area.
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.
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