Yemen focus on remote areas
San'a - Yemen deployed several hundred extra troops to two mountainous eastern provinces that are al-Qaeda's main strongholds in the country and where the suspected would-be Christmas aeroplane bomber may have visited, security officials said on Saturday.
The reinforcements were part of a stepped-up campaign by Yemen to combat al-Qaeda, with increased support from the United States. The fight against the terror network gained new urgency after the failed attempt on Christmas Day to bomb a US airliner headed to Detroit.
President Barack Obama said on Saturday that al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen was behind the attempt. A 23-year-old Nigerian accused in the attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has told US investigators he received training and instructions from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.
US and Yemeni investigators have been trying to track Abdulmutallab's steps in Yemen. The Nigerian was in Yemen from August until December 7, ostensibly to study Arabic in San'a, but he disappeared for much of that time.
Yemeni security officials said Abdulmutallab may have travelled to Marif or Jouf provinces - remote, mountainous regions east of the capital where al-Qaeda's presence is the strongest. The central government has little control in the provinces, and the officials said it was still not certain Abdulmutallab reached the region.
Yemeni Information Minister Hassan al-Louzi said Abdulmutallab's movements are "under investigation. They are trying to uncover where he went, who he met with."
The security officials also said Abdulmutallab may have been in contact by email with a radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaqi, during his stay in Yemen. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the press. Al-Awlaqi
Al-Awlaqi, who is in hiding in Yemen, is a popular preacher among al-Qaeda sympathisers, calling for Muslims to fight in jihad, or holy war, against the West. Al-Awlaqi earlier exchanged dozens of emails with US Maj Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused gunman in the November 5 mass shooting at the Fort Hood, Texas, Army post in which 13 people were killed.
On Friday, the Yemeni military sent hundreds of extra troops to Marib and Jouf provinces, the Yemeni security officials said.
The deployment appeared to be an attempt to beef up the government presence in the provinces, where al-Qaeda has killed a number of top security officials in recent months. The region is dominated by tribes, many of which are discontented with the central government and have given refuge to al-Qaeda fighters, both Yemenis and other Arabs coming from Saudi Arabia or war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yemen has carried out a series of airstrikes and raids against al-Qaeda hide-outs in recent weeks - the heaviest in years - targeting what it said were top leaders in the terror network's branch there.
The intensified assaults comes as the United States has beefed up counter terrorism aid to the impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, providing $67 million in training and support last year. Only Pakistan got more, with some $112 million.
Yemen on Saturday welcomed a call by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to hold an international conference on January 28 to devise ways to counter radicalisation in Yemen. Brown said he hopes the meeting will co-ordinate donor efforts to help the government of Yemen and identify counter terrorism needs there.
Al-Louzi, the information minister, said Yemen will be "an active participant" in the conference. He said the gathering should address "all aspects" of the terror issue, including the widespread poverty and underdevelopment that Yemeni officials say fuels al-Qaeda's spread in the country.
"Whoever wants to build Yemen's stability and build its democratic and modern values must help it, and not only in security but in development," he told The Associated Press. "The most important problems in Yemen are economic at their root."
Yemen is the most impoverished nation in the Arab world.