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Clashes as Yemen raids al-Qaeda hideout

Yemeni forces raided an al-Qaeda hideout and set off a gunbattle on Wednesday as the government vowed to eliminate the group that claimed it was behind the Christmas bombing attempt on a US aeroplane.

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The fighting took place in an al-Qaeda stronghold in western Yemen, haven for a group that attacked the US embassy here in 2008, killing 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians. A government statement said at least one suspected militant was arrested during the clashes.

“The (Interior) Ministry will continue tracking down al-Qaeda terrorists and will continue its strikes against the group until it is totally eliminated,” Deputy Interior Minister Brig Gen Saleh al-Zawari told senior military officials at a meeting in Mareb, another province believed to shelter al-Qaeda fighters.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s group, claimed it was behind the attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner.

Al-Qaeda ‘trained plotter’

Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old passenger, was arrested on Friday after he allegedly tried to bring down the Northwest Airlines flight, carrying 289 people.

US investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.

Yemen’s government has said Abdulmutallab spent two periods in the country, from 2004-2005 and from August to December of this year, just before the attempted attack.

Abdulmutallab’s Yemen connection has drawn attention to al-Qaeda’s growing presence in the impoverished and lawless country, which is located on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.

Wednesday’s clashes took place in Hudaydah province, an al-Qaeda stronghold along the Red Sea coast. A security official said the target was a house owned by an al-Qaeda sympathiser.

The official said the owner was arrested, a suspected al-Qaeda member was injured and several militants who fled were being pursued. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Militants killed

Before Wednesday’s clashes, Yemeni forces backed by US intelligence carried out two major strikes against al-Qaeda hideouts this month, reportedly killing more than 60 militants.

The US has increasingly provided intelligence, surveillance and training to Yemeni forces during the past year, and has provided some firepower, according to a senior US defence official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the subject.

Defence Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Yemen received $US67 million ($A75 million) in training and support under the Pentagon’s counterterrorism program last year, second only to some $US112 million ($A125.43 million) spent in Pakistan.

He said the program was not a new one.

“We are going to work with allies and partners to seek out terrorist activity, al-Qaeda, wherever they operate, plan their operations, seek safe harbour,” he said. “This is an effort that is years old now.”