Page last updated at 16:36 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Yemen forces 'kill al-Qaeda chief'

Photo released by Yemen Interior Ministry which says it shows suspected al-Qaeda local chief Abdullah Mehdar
Yemen's authorities released a picture they said was of Mehdar

The alleged leader of an al-Qaeda cell in Yemen has been killed in an exchange of fire with security forces, according to a provincial governor.

Abdullah Mehdar is said to have been the leader of an al-Qaeda group in the province of Shabwa, 375 miles (600km) east of the capital, Sanaa.

Reports said four other members of the same cell had been arrested.

In another incident, two soldiers were reportedly killed in an ambush near Ataq, the provincial capital.

The governor of Shabwa, Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi, said: "Abdullah Mehdar was killed last night by security forces, which had besieged the house he hid in."

Under pressure

Security officials said Yemeni forces had surrounded the house, in a mountainous region, and exchanged fire with some 20 militants inside.

The remaining militants escaped. The Spanish news agency, EFE, said one member of the security forces had been killed in the operation.


It quoted local news agencies saying the dead militant had been one of the top al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen.

But a local tribal leader told Associated Press news agency Mehdar and the arrested men were not "active members" of al-Qaeda.

"They were young men who went astray, but I don't think they were really members of al-Qaeda," Sheik Atiq Baadha said.

He said local leaders could have handed over the men if they had been approached, and warned that sympathy for al-Qaeda could increase if government forces continued with their current tactics.

On Tuesday, Yemen's foreign minister renewed a call for dialogue with al-Qaeda militants, provided they downed weapons and renounced violence.

But, he added, if they refused, government forces would continue to pursue them.

The spotlight was turned on Yemen after the Yemen-based group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said it had carried out a failed bomb attack on a US-bound airliner on 25 December.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama said he had "no intention" of sending US troops to Yemen or Somalia to combat militant groups in those countries.

Analysts say al-Qaeda militants have been moving to Yemen after coming under pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and following a crackdown in Saudi Arabia.

Last week, Yemeni officials said another local al-Qaeda leader and two other militants had been arrested after being injured in a raid 25 miles (40km) north of Sanaa.

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