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Sanaa says presence of US troops would bolster Al Qaeda; investigation finds more on Northwest bomber.
SANAA, Yemen – Yemeni government security experts and top rung politicians said today that U.S. troops in Yemen would bolster support for Al Qaeda and denied claims that Yemen was a candidate for state failure.
“Direct interference by the U.S. will strengthen Al Qaeda,” said Rashad al-Alimi, the deputy prime minister for national security and defense, referring to the terror group's Yemen-based offshoot Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “It will not make them weak.”
Yemen and the growth of Al Qaeda in its remote countryside have become a grave concern to U.S. authorities since a self-proclaimed Al Qaeda member, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab had spent more than four months in Yemen in 2009, and as much as a year here in 2004-2005. Experts say Yemen, on the verge of collapse due to two separate insurgencies, a water crisis, an oil crisis and crushing poverty, has become a safe haven for the growing AQAP organization.
In a wide-ranging press conference held in the capital, Alimi said the a Yemeni investigation had revealed that Abdulmutallab had direct contact with American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and possibly even stayed in the same house.
Awlaki is the American-born Yemeni preacher known to recruit and indoctrinate Islamic extremists. Before Nidal Hasan shot and killed 12 people in Fort Hood, Texas, early in November, he was in contact with Awlaki. After the attack, the cleric hailed the shooter as a “hero.” Al-Awlaki is wanted by both American and Yemeni authorities.
Alimi emphasized that crushing Al Qaeda was Yemen’s top priority, but even as he insisted to Western journalists that Sanaa does not want U.S. soldiers in the country, he admitted that Yemen could not fight out Al Qaeda without international assistance.
“The technology is not available to Yemen,” he said.
Last week, Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command in the region, told reporters in Baghdad that the U.S. planned to double its funding for Yemen security to about $140 million, according to the Washington Post. Pentagon officials later retracted this statement, saying it was too early to announce an exact figure.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to approve $150 million for Yemen in the coming year. But, when asked if the U.S. intended to send troops to Yemen, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said, “We’re not talking about that at this point at all,” according to the Associated Press.
Abdulmutallab was in Yemen from Aug. 4 to Dec. 7 of last year. He studied Arabic in the capital, Sanaa, until Sept. 21. He left the school, telling teachers and administrators he was going back to Nigeria. He spent the next two and a half months in Yemen, and it is still unclear where he traveled during that time.