Yemen arrests dozens of al-Qaeda suspects

Published: Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Yemeni police forensic officers inspect the scene of a suicide bombing that targeted the convoy of the British ambassador in Sanaa

MOHAMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty ImagesYemeni police forensic officers inspect the scene of a suicide bombing that targeted the convoy of the British ambassador in Sanaa

SANAA – Yemeni police arrested dozens of al-Qaeda suspects in sweeps a day after a suicide bomber tried to kill Britain’s ambassador to Yemen, security officials said on Tuesday.

In Yemen’s turbulent north, three people were wounded as rebels exchanged fire with pro-government tribes who cut a main road to the capital.

Among those taken into custody, the officials said, were seven Yemenis who had close relations with the bomber, who died when he attacked the convoy of British Ambassador Tim Torlot on Monday.

The seven men, as well as the bomber, had all been arrested for suspected al-Qaeda ties following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets, but were released after two years in prison, according to the officials.

Yemen has been battling al-Qaeda and other militant groups eroding its stability for years. The group’s regional wing, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is based in Yemen and has previously threatened and attacked embassies.

Monday’s attack "bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda", Yemen’s interior ministry said.

The bomber, identified by the ministry as Othman Ali al-Sulwi, was a 22-year-old Yemeni student from the southern town of Taizz. Sulwi was wearing an explosive belt when he threw himself at the ambassador’s convoy, the ministry said.

No embassy staff was hurt, but two security escorts and a bystander were wounded.

The British embassy will close to the public for at least the rest of the week, an embassy spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Police were also detaining all people with unlicenced motor bikes, an interior ministry statement said. Arab television channels said on Monday that police were searching for an unknown motorcylist who was at the scene of the suicide attack.

In the north, a pro-government tribe cut the main road from rebel stronghold Sa’ada to the capital Sanaa after what local officials said was an exchange of gunfire in a local market.

Both incidents, which followed the killing of a tribe member by rebels four days earlier, will likely strain a fragile truce agreed between the government and Shi’ite rebels to halt a war in the north that has raged on and off since 2004.

A statement on the rebels’ website said "government elements" had fired on shoppers and severed the main road to blockade the province and "stir anxiety and chaos once more".

Yemen jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns after al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based regional arm claimed responsibility for an attempted attack on a U.S.-bound airliner in December.

But analysts say Sanaa has been more concerned with curbing Shi’ite rebellion in the north and stifling a secessionist movement in the south than with tackling the global al Qaeda.

Western governments and Saudi Arabia fear al-Qaeda will use Yemen as a base for further attacks in the region and beyond.

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