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Yemen on 'high alert' threat of imminent al-Qaida attack
Yemeni security forces remained on high alert on Tuesday night amid fears of an imminent attack by al-Qaida in the capital, Sana'a, after the US and Britain withdrew all embassy staff and again urged their citizens to leave the country. The US state department later described a "specific and immediate threat".
According to the BBC, dozens of al-Qaida operatives have streamed into Sana'a in the last few days, apparently to take part in a terrorist attack. The Yemen Post reported that "Sana'a has been literally inundated with armed personnel and armoured vehicles to ensure that the military maintains a tight grip over all state and foreign interests." Residents awoke to the sound of an aircraft, which appeared to be a US P-3 Orion, a manned surveillance plane, shortly before the embassy evacuations.
Hours earlier, Yemeni tribal sources and unnamed officials had reported two US drone strikes that killed four al-Qaida operatives in Marib, north-east of Sana'a, including a senior commander who was named by al-Jazeera as Salah al-Jumati. Last month, the second in command of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Said al-Shehri, was killed in a US drone strike.
US attacks have increased in recent months, attracting criticism that they are extrajudicial killings and also hit innocent people, fuelling a cycle of revenge.
The New York Times reported that US intelligence services had intercepted communications between Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's leader, and the Yemeni head of AQAP, Nasser al-Wuhayshi.
The paper quoted counter-terrorism officials as saying that Zawahiri had recently promoted Wuhayshi to be the new "general manager" of the terrorist network, making him the second most important man in the organisation.
In response to the intercept the US closed a number of embassies and consulates over the weekend, temporarily shutting down 19 diplomatic outposts in the Middle East and Africa.
In UK also temporarily withdrew embassy staff and repeated its advice against all travel to Yemen, which was first issued in 2011.
The US air force transported state department personnel out of Sana'a early on Tuesday but called the operation "a reduction in staff", not an evacuation.
The Yemeni government had already announced a plan to tighten security measures at foreign embassies – particularly those of western countries – sea ports and airports and other facilities of strategic importance, including oil pipelines and power grids. Sana'a has said that it is hunting 25 named AQAP operatives it suspects of planning attacks.
AQAP has been blamed for the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit and for explosives-laden parcels that were intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.
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