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Yemen says unaware of alleged plane bomb plot

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 8 May 2012 17:53 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds second Yemeni official's comment)

SANAA, May 8 (Reuters) - Yemen had no knowledge of what the United States said was a plot by a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda to put a bomb on an airliner bound for a Western country, Yemeni officials said on Tuesday.

U.S. officials said on Monday that an "underwear bomb", similar to one used in a failed attack on a U.S.-bound plane in 2009, had been seized in the Middle East in the last 10 days.

The officials said they believed the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had planned to use a suicide bomber to detonate the device, without saying where it had been seized.

"We have no information on the attempted bombing the U.S. authorities have spoken of," an official in Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's office, who asked not to be named, said.

Another senior Yemeni official said Sanaa was kept out of the loop on the subject.

"The bomb plot only served U.S. interests and Yemen was once more kept in the dark," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

One U.S. official has said the bomb appeared to be similar to the work of fugitive Saudi militant Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who U.S. intelligence officials think is AQAP's main bomb-maker.

AQAP is the principal focus of U.S. concern in Yemen. Washington backed a power transfer deal under which former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, once seen as a vital partner in U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, left office in February.

Saleh gave way to Hadi, his deputy, after more than a year of mass protests against his 33-year rule that split the military and ignited bouts of open warfare between pro- and anti-Saleh factions as well as tribal militias.

An al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al-Sharia, seized swathes of southern territory during the uprising against Saleh, whose foes accused him at times of colluding with the militants while underlining to Washington that only he could handle them.

The United States, which seeks to kill alleged al Qaeda leaders in Yemen with drone and missile strikes, now wants Hadi to re-unify the military and use it against al Qaeda.

In the latest apparent drone strike, two Yemeni members of al Qaeda were killed in their car in the Wadi Rafad valley in Shabwa province in southern Yemen on Sunday, residents there and a spokesman for the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia group said.

The residents named the men who died as Fahd al-Qasaa, who escaped from prison in 2005 and who had been convicted for involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole warship in the southern Yemeni port of Aden, and Fahed Salem al-Akdam.

The senior Yemeni official confirmed that the strike was carried out by a U.S. drone but gave no further details.

Islamist gunmen killed at least 32 Yemeni soldiers the next day when they stormed an army post outside the city of Zinjibar, capital of the southern province of Abyan. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Tom Finn; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Janet Lawrence)

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