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Yemen strikes at al Qaeda, Britain stops flights.

Byline: Reuters

SANAA: Yemeni war planes struck at the rural home of an al Qaeda leader on Wednesday, pressing a government offensive against militants whose presence in the Arab country has alarmed Western governments.

In London, the British government said it was suspending Yemenia airline flights to London over security concerns. Sanaa declared war on al Qaeda last week as pressure mounted to crack down on the global militant group after its Yemen-based wing said it was behind an attempt on Dec. 25 to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane.

"The home of the terrorist Ayed al-Shabwani was targeted in an air raid today, but until now there are no details on the result of the raid," a Yemeni official told Reuters.

It was not known if Shabwani was in his house at time of the strike in Maarib, east of Sanaa. He is accused of sheltering militants on his farm, where training also took place.

Shabwani was one of six al Qaeda militants the government had previously said died in an air strike last week. Al Qaeda later denied any of its members had been killed. Separately, Yemeni forces shot dead an al Qaeda fighter who tried to steal a government vehicle, state media reported.

Western powers and neighbouring Saudi Arabia worry Yemen could turn into a failed state and fear al Qaeda could exploit the ensuing chaos to strengthen its foothold in the poorest Arab country and turn it into a launch pad for further attacks.

The Yemeni authorities, hunting al Qaeda in several provinces, are also fighting a northern Shi ite insurgency and face separatist sentiment in the south. Yemen has occasionally been hasty in announcing the deaths of militants. The death of Anwar al-Awlaki, whom Yemen announced last month might have been killed in an air strike, was never confirmed.

A local government source in Shabwa province later said officials were in talks with tribal elders to try to persuade Awlaki to surrender, or be taken by force.

Yemen gained a reputation as an al Qaeda haven after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and came under the spotlight after crackdowns on the group in Pakistan and Afghanistan raised fears Yemen was becoming a training and recruiting centre for militants.

Amid the rising instability, Yemen s central bank said it injected $150 million into the foreign exchange market, but traders said the intervention did not stop the rial currency from falling to its lowest levels in years.

Britain suspended direct flights from Yemen as part of a wave of measures to tighten up border security, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday, warning that militant cells were actively planning attacks.

"We know that a number of terrorist cells are actively trying to attack Britain and other countries," Brown told parliament.

He said Britain had agreed with Yemenia to suspend direct flights to London until security was improved. A Yemenia official told Reuters in Sanaa that British officials had told the airline that if it wanted to fly to Britain, flights must first stop in a third country for security checks.

Greater scrutiny of suspect airline passengers and closer global cooperation announced by Brown are aimed at preventing a repeat of intelligence mistakes that allowed the Nigerian suspect in the Detroit plot to board a U.S.-bound flight.

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2009

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Jan 21, 2010
Words:571
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