As Yemen pleaded for Western help to take on the hardline Islamists behind a failed bid to blow up an airliner, the would-be bomber’s homeland, Nigeria, criticised new security measures facing passengers flying to the United States.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a Yemen-based cell, says it was behind the Christmas Day plot to blow up a plane over Detroit which failed when chemicals sewn into Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s underwear failed to explode.
With Western pressure growing for Sanaa to tackle AQAP, a website linked to the defence ministry said two bodyguards had been killed as security forces tried to capture Mohammed al-Hanq, one of the group’s most senior leaders.
While Hanq had managed to flee, “the clashes led to the killing of two bodyguards who are relatives of his and are suspected al-Qaeda members,” sep26.net website quoted a security official as saying.
Earlier, a tribal source requesting anonymity said two suspected al-Qaeda members were shot dead near Arhab, 40km north of Sanaa, by security forces hunting for Hanq.
US. UK embassies closed
Two of Hanq’s company, his son and his nephew, were killed and three others were wounded in the firefight, while he managed to escape, the source said.
With fears of fresh attacks still rife, the US and British embassies remained shut for a second day running while other missions also limited access.
France said it would “no longer authorise public access to the premises of our diplomatic mission” while Japan and the Netherlands halted consular services and Italy said it would only deal with people with appointments.
Speaking on a visit to Qatar, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi said that his country needed help to take on the militants who have found the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country a fertile ground for recruitment.
Abdulmutallab himself was staying in Yemen until earlier this month where he is said to have undergone training, “Certainly there is a problem with al-Qaeda and an interest among the international community in its activities,” Kurbi said.
“Yemen is capable of confronting these groups, but it needs international aid to form and train anti-terrorist units as well as economic aid, since the problem also has an economic dimension.”
Funding for anti-terror unit
US President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said on Sunday that Washington was making a “determined and concerted effort” to help fund Yemen’s special Counter-Terrorism Unit.
At the same time, US officials said Yemen was one of 14 “terror linked” countries to which enhanced airline passenger screening would be applied. Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia are among some of the other countries affected.
The new designation means that all passengers flying into the United States from the countries will be subject to measures such as body pat-downs and searches of their hand luggage.
Nigeria, which has already announced plans to introduce body scanners at Lagos airport in the wake of the Christmas Day plot, was angered by the new move which it said amounted to discrimination.
“It is unfair to include Nigeria on the US list for tighter screening because Nigerians do not have terrorist tendencies,” Information Minister Dora Akunyili told journalists.
“It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behaviour of one person.”
The new security measures have caused confusion in some airports, including at Rome’s Fiumicino where passengers headed to the United States faced major delays at security checks on Monday.