"Backed by the United States," at 4:30 a.m. local time Yemen attacked "a meeting of al-Qaeda operatives" in southeastern Yemen on Thursday, about 400 miles from the nation's capital, Sana'a, with an airstrike that killed "at least 30 suspected militants," the Washington Post reported on Christmas Eve. -- The attack came a week after the U.S. launched a cruise missile strike on a suspected al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen, killing dozens of civilians. -- The story came with a hook that reporters grabbed eagerly: "One of the possible meeting participants was Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen [born in New Mexico] and extremist preacher who exchanged e-mails with the Army psychiatrist suspected of killing 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base." -- However, Sudarsan Raghavan and Greg Jaffe cast doubt on whether al-Aulaqi was really there, saying that "relatives and friends in the province, they said, they do not believe that he was among those killed." -- And the Post quoted Al-Aulaqi's father, a former Yemeni minister of agriculture who once taught at the Univ. of Minnesota: "'If the American government helped in attacking one of [its own] citizens, this is illegal,' said Aulaqi, his voice cracking. 'Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and he's going to get a trial. My son has killed nobody. He should face trial if he's done something wrong.'" -- The New York Times noted that "Although Mr. Awlaki, 38, has not been accused of planting bombs or carrying out terrorist attacks himself, his online sermons champion a radicalized vision of Islam, and he has been linked to numerous terrorism suspects" and that he "praised the killings at Fort Hood, saying, 'working in the American military to fight Muslims is a betrayal of Islam.'" -- A White House spokesman aboard Air Force One en route to the president's vacation in Hawaii said that President Obama "supports the government of Yemen in their efforts to take out terrorist elements in their country. We continue to support those efforts." -- ABC News headlined the story as "U.S. Military Attacks al Qaeda in Yemen for a Second Time" and called the deepening U.S. involvement "a major escalation by President Obama in his efforts to go after the terror group in yet another country." -- "The U.S. has been pressing Yemen for well over a year to take tougher action against al-Qaida, which has steadily been building its presence in the country." -- Bloomberg News emphasized the presence of al-Awlaki at the meeting was merely "presumed," according to a press release from Yemen's embassy spokeswoman Lamiss al-Tashi. -- The Christian Science Monitor provided additional background about other figures said to have been killed in the attack, including one who was "released from Guantánamo into Saudi custody in late 2007 and put through a rehabilitation program for former jihadists." -- A piece on the website of the John Birch Society's New American noted that al-Awaki had mocked the prowess of U.S. intelligence in an interview with Al Jazeera: "Where was American intelligence that claimed once that it can read any car plate number anywhere in the world?" -- Time characterized al-Awaki as "something of an e-imam, using the internet to preach fiery anti-American and anti-West sermons," noting that he had "fled" the U.S. in 2001 and had reported links to the 9/11 hijackers. -- BACKGROUND: In a report on the U.S. program in Yemen, said that the U.S. support "probably includes surveillance by unmanned drones." -- Lolita C. Baldor said that "Yemeni authorities . . . fear that a visible American role in the country will fuel internal conflicts. As a result, observers can only whisper about Americans coming and going at an increasing rate from a military base in northwest Yemen, or the sightings of new aircraft and drones in the skies above." -- Baldor said that "The operation is the culmination of a strategy shift that occurred about a year ago, when the United States determined that the two key centers in the fight against al-Qaida are Yemen, located on the southern tip of the Saudi Arabian peninsula, and Pakistan, a military official with direct knowledge of the strategy told the Associated Press." ...
YEMENI FORCES LAUNCH ATTACK ON AL-QAEDA OPERATIVES
by Sudarsan Raghavan and Greg Jaffe
December 24, 2009
SANAA, Yemen -- Yemeni forces, backed by the United States, launched an attack Thursday on a meeting of al-Qaeda operatives where a Yemeni American preacher linked to the suspected gunman in the Fort Hood attacks might have been present, U.S. and Yemeni officials said.
The strike on an alleged al-Qaeda hideout in southeastern Yemen killed at least 30 suspected militants and was the second such assault in the past week, according to Yemeni security and government sources. One of the possible meeting participants was Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen and extremist preacher who exchanged e-mails with the Army psychiatrist suspected of killing 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base.
In a statement, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said that Aulaqi was believed to be attending a meeting of senior al-Qaeda leaders, including the network's regional leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, and his deputy, Said al-Shihri, a Saudi national and former detainee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Yemeni officials say the airstrike unfolded in Rafadh, a remote mountainous area in Shabwa, a province in southeastern Yemen, where Aulaqi and senior al-Qaeda leaders were presumably meeting. A Yemeni government official and local news reports said that Aulaqi's house was also targeted, although it's unclear whether it was from an airstrike or a subsequent raid.
It was unknown whether Aulaqi was killed or wounded in the strike.
The United States provided intelligence and other support in the strike, a U.S. official said. It wasn't clear whether U.S. firepower was employed in the attack. A U.S. military spokesman declined to comment on the attack beyond praising Yemen for its strong stand against terrorism.
The *Yemen Observer*, a local paper with ties to the government, reported that Aulaqi's house was "raided and demolished."
Aulaqi, who was born in New Mexico, has said that he exchanged e-mails with Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, who is suspected of opening fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. The radical preacher has also praised Hasan in interviews and on his Web site.
In interviews, Aulaqi's distraught relatives said they have had no official word about the cleric. But after speaking with relatives and friends in the province, they said, they do not believe that he was among those killed.
The cleric's father, former Yemeni minister of agriculture Nasser al-Aulaqi, said his son was living in the home of an uncle and, he believed, he had left that residence about two months ago. The uncle's house is more than 40 miles from Rafadh, said the elder Aulaqi in a rare interview. But he said he did not know whether the uncle's house was destroyed.
"If the American government helped in attacking one of [its own] citizens, this is illegal," said Aulaqi, his voice cracking. "Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and he's going to get a trial. My son has killed nobody. He should face trial if he's done something wrong."
"If Obama wants to kill my son, this is wrong," he added.
YEMEN SAYS IT ATTACKED QAEDA GATHERING
By Jack Healy and Scott Shane
New York Times
December 24, 2009
Yemeni fighter jets, acting on intelligence provided in part by the United States, struck what the Yemeni government said was a meeting of Al Qaeda operatives early Thursday morning, and officials suggested that a radical cleric tied to the suspect in the Fort Hood shootings may have been among the 30 people killed.
A statement by the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said the air strike targeted a gathering of “scores” of Qaeda members from Yemen and other countries, including the network’s two top leaders in Yemen, in a remote corner of southern Yemen. The statement said the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, was “presumed to be at the site.”
It could take days for investigators to sift through the rubble to identify the dead, and intelligence officials in the United States could not immediately confirm whether Mr. Awlaki or any Qaeda members were among those killed.
The government of Yemen, which has long been a haven for terrorists, has been carrying out strikes that appear to be directed against Al Qaeda’s growing presence in the country.
The group, whose regional affiliate is known as Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, has mounted frequent attacks against foreign embassies and Yemeni officials in the last two years, adding to the security threats in Yemen that include an armed rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. There is no indication that the various insurgents targeting Yemen’s government are cooperating, but the concurrent crises have weakened the state’s ability to react.
Yemeni security forces carried out airstrikes and ground raids against suspected Qaeda hideouts last week with what American officials described as “intelligence and firepower” supplied by the United States. The assaults marked Yemen’s widest offensive against jihadists in years. Government forces hit bases in Abyan, a lawless, mountainous area in the south, as well as in the cities of Arhab and Sana, the capital.
The airstrikes on Thursday were aimed at a large group of Qaeda operatives who had gathered in the southern province of Shabwa to plan attacks against the Yemeni government in retaliation for the offensive last week, the Yemeni Embassy statement said.
Yemeni officials said they had made targets of the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, and his deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, who were believed to be at the meeting with Mr. Awlaki. Mr. Shihri was held for five years in the American detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and after his release in 2007 went through a Saudi rehabilitation program. But he joined Al Qaeda after his return to Yemen, marking a notable failure for the Saudi program, which American officials generally admire.
Although Mr. Awlaki, 38, has not been accused of planting bombs or carrying out terrorist attacks himself, his online sermons champion a radicalized vision of Islam, and he has been linked to numerous terrorism suspects, including Nidal Malik Hasan, the American Army major who faces murder charges in the shooting deaths of 13 people at the Fort Hood army base in November.
Major Hasan and the American-born cleric exchanged about 20 e-mail messages, and shortly after the shootings, Mr. Awlaki praised Major Hasan as a hero.
In an interview posted on Wednesday on the Web site of Al Jazeera, Mr. Awlaki said Major Hasan had asked in his first e-mail message about what Islamic law dictated about “Muslim soldiers who serve in the American military and kill their colleagues.” Mr. Awlaki also praised the killings at Fort Hood, saying, “working in the American military to fight Muslims is a betrayal of Islam.”
--Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
U.S. REITERATES SUPPORT FOR YEMEN FORCES AFTER QAEDA RAID
December 24, 2009
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE -- The White House on Thursday reiterated its support for Yemeni authorities after Yemeni aircraft killed 34 suspected Al-Qaeda members.
The dawn raid in a remote mountainous region, the second such strike in eight days, killed senior leaders, security sources said.
However the White House declined to comment on reports that U.S.-Yemeni imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, who had ties to the alleged Fort Hood shooter who killed 13 people at a Texas military base last month, was among the dead.
"I'm not going to comment on those specific reports," said deputy spokesman Bill Burton.
"As we've said previously, the president supports the government of Yemen in their efforts to take out terrorist elements in their country. We continue to support those efforts."
Aulaqi told Al-Jazeera this week that Major Nidal Hasan, whose shooting rampage at Fort Hood killed 12 soldiers and one civilian, wounding 42 others, had asked him about whether it was legitimate under Islamic law to kill US soldiers.
Thursday's strike brings the Yemeni government's tally of Al-Qaeda suspects killed in the past eight days to 68.
The New York Times has reported that U.S. President Barack Obama approved firepower, intelligence and other support for Yemen's efforts against Al-Qaeda.
Yemen is Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland and has seen a spate of attacks against Western targets over the past decade.
U.S. MILITARY ATTACKS AL QAEDA IN YEMEN FOR SECOND TIME
By Pierre Thomas
** Second Attack in A Week May Have Targeted Imam Who Advised Ft. Hood Shooter **
December 24, 2009
It appears that Yemen is emerging as a focal point in the U.S. government's ongoing war against terror. For the second time in a week, an attack against suspected al Qaeda operatives was launched in Yemen with U.S. support, sources tell ABC News. A radical imam associated with the suspect in the recent Fort Hood massacre could be among the dead.
Thursday, Yemen's embassy in Washington, D.C. released a statement confirming the attack. "Today, Yemeni fighter jets launched an aerial assault at 4:30 AM, on a remote location in the province of Shabwa," Yemeni officials said. "The assault targeted a meeting of senior al Qaeda operatives, 403 miles south east of Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. Preliminary reports suggest that the strike targeted scores of Yemeni and foreign Al-Qaeda operatives."
Among those targeted: Nasser Al-Wuhayshi, the regional al Qaeda leader and his deputy, Saeed Al-Shihri. Also presumed to be at the gathering of suspected militants, Anwar Al-Awlaki, the radical imam who exchanged emails with Nidal Hassan, the U.S. Army officer accused of murdering soldiers at Fort Hood. In a series of recent interviews, the imam said that Hasan had discussed with him whether it was appropriate to kill U.S. soldiers.
U.S. officials told ABC News Thursday they were hopeful those targeted had been killed, but still were awaiting official confirmation.
The assault came just a week after a series of attacks at the direction of President Obama himself, sources tell ABC News. White House officials told ABC News that the orders for the U.S. military to attack the suspected al Qaeda sites in Yemen last week came directly from the Oval Office. The action represented a major escalation by President Obama in his efforts to go after the terror group in yet another country. The U.S. military used cruise missiles in the attacks on two separate locations in Yemen.
YEMEN SAYS IT MAY HAVE KILLED AL-QAEDA LEADERS, CLERIC IN RAID
by Tony Capaccio
December 24, 2009
Yemen warplanes may have killed two al-Qaeda leaders and a Muslim extremist religious leader connected with the U.S. Army major accused of killing Army personnel in Fort Hood, Texas last month, a Yemeni government spokeswoman said today.
The air strikes at 4:30 a.m. Yemen time “targeted a meeting of senior al-Qaeda operatives 403 miles southeast of the capital, Sana’a,” embassy spokeswoman Lamiss al-Tashi said in a Washington press release. “Preliminary reports suggest that the strikes targeted scores of regional al-Qaeda and foreign operatives.”
Religious leader Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in America, was “presumed” to be at the site, along with regional al-Qaeda leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi and his deputy Saeed al-Shihri, said the release. The release didn’t allege al-Awlaki, who spent part of his childhood in Yeman, was a member of al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda has used bases in Yemen to strike Western targets inside the country as well as mount cross-border attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter.
U.S. federal investigators and lawmakers are reviewing why the FBI didn’t tell the Pentagon about e-mail exchanges between Fort Hood shooting suspect Major Nidal Malik Hasan and al- Awlaki, who was known for his anti-American views.
Yemen’s air force struck the area based on reports the government received that al-Qaeda leaders were meeting to plan retaliation against the Yemeni government for attacks it conducted last week against suspected terrorist strongholds, the embassy’s statement said.
DEC. 17 STRIKES
Yemen on Dec. 17 carried out strikes against al-Qaeda in Arhab and in the southern province of Abyan that killed 34 suspected militants and detained another 17, Agence France- Presse reported, citing Yemen’s defense ministry.
U.S. government officials said they were aware of the report of today’s raid, while declining to confirm any details.
“The president supports the government of Yemen and their efforts to take out terrorist elements in their country, and we’ll continue to support those efforts,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama and his family to a Christmas vacation in Hawaii.
Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Major Shawn Turner said al- Qaeda “poses a serious threat to Yemeni and U.S. interests in the region, and any effort to mitigate that threat is welcomed.”
HASAN, AL-AWLAKI TIES
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has been charged by military authorities with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 of attempted murder.
Intelligence agencies last year intercepted e-mails between Hasan and al-Awlaki. Investigators say there was nothing suspicious in the communications and they appeared to be related to a research project.
The cleric told the *Washington Post* he thought he played a role in transforming Hasan into a devout Muslim, though he said he didn’t pressure the Army psychiatrist to go on a shooting spree.
Al-Awlaki told the newspaper he thought he helped influence Hasan through his lectures at the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia. Al-Awlaki exchanged about a dozen e-mails with Hasan during the past year and said that Hasan “trusted” him, the Post reported.
After the shootings, al-Awlaki wrote on his Web site that Hasan was a “hero.”
--With assistance from Greg Stohr in Washington and Nicholas Johnston aboard Air Force One. Editors: Robin Meszoly, Don Frederick
Terrorism & security
YEMEN AIR STRIKE ON AL QAEDA: WAS CLERIC LINKED TO FORT HOOD SHOOTING KILLED?
By Christa Case Bryant
Christian Science Monitor
December 24, 2009
Yemen security forces today announced that air strikes targeting Al Qaeda operatives killed more than two dozen suspected militants and demolished the house where a Yemeni-American cleric linked to the Ft. Hood shooter was believed to be living.
The attack was the second in a week, as the U.S. steps up pressure and aid for thwarting what is perceived as a growing terrorism threat in Yemen.
Early this morning, Yemeni planes killed an estimated 30 Al Qaeda suspects from Yemen and abroad in the southern Shabwa governorate, reported Yemen’s English-language Saba News outlet. The outlet quoted a government source as saying the attack targeted an Al Qaeda meeting to plan retaliatory operations after a similar air strike in Sanaa and Abyan governorates Dec. 17.
An official source in the Supreme Security Committee said that the strike targeted a hideout of al-Qaeda, in which the al-Qaeda members have been holding a meeting attended by the terrorists Nasir al-Whaishi and Said al-Shihri, Saudi national.
The Yemen Observer reported that the house where Anwar al-Aulaqi, the radical cleric linked to Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, had been destroyed during the Al Qaeda meeting.
The house of the U.S. Fort Hood shooter’s mentor, Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, was raided and demolished. The strike took place in the area of Rafadh, Shabwah province’s Suaeed district, as dozens of militants gathered in the presence of terrorists Nasser al-Wahaishi and Saeed al-Shahari, a Saudi national.
But in a thorough piece with interviews from Mr. Aulaqi’s relatives, the Washington Post cast doubt on whether Yemeni forces hit either the house or the New Mexico-born cleric.
". . . according to other security officials and local news reports, neither Aulaqi nor his house appeared to be the target of the strike. The Aulaqis are a large tribe in Shabwa, and it is possible that the bombing was directed at a home owned by a different member of the clan.
"The cleric’s father, former Yemeni minister of agriculture Nasser al-Aulaqi, said his son was living in the home of an uncle and, he believed, he had left that residence about two months ago. The uncle’s house is more than 40 miles from Rafadh, the alleged site of the airstrike, said the elder Aulaqi in a rare interview. But he said he did not know if the uncle’s house was destroyed.
"'If the American government helped in attacking one of [its own] citizens, this is illegal,' said Aulaqi, his voice cracking. 'Nidal Hassan killed 13 people and he’s going to get a trial. My son has killed nobody. He should face trial if he’s done something wrong.'"
The U.S. government has in the past year intensified pressure on Yemen to thwart what it sees as a growing threat that the weak state could turn into a haven for terrorism, according to the Associated Press. U.S. military aid has risen from $0 in 2008 to $70 million in 2009 -- with funds allocated for ships, Coast Guard equipment, border security, and helicopters with night cameras, the AP reported. Washington has also provided counterterrorism training: "Much like the effort with Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, the military has boosted its counterterrorism training for Yemeni forces, and is providing more intelligence, which probably includes surveillance by unmanned drones, according to U.S.. officials and analysts.
". . . A steady stream of U.S. diplomats and military leaders have gone to Yemen, pressuring the government to step up its campaign against al-Qaida."
The Long War Journal's Bill Roggio sketched a useful portrait of two of the key suspected Al Qaeda militants who were reportedly targeted in today’s strike, Mr. Whaishi (also spelled Wuhayshi) and Mr. Shihri: "Wuhayshi is a top al Qaeda commander and a rising star in the organization. Wuhayshi served as Osama bin Laden’s aide-de-camp and was one of 23 al Qaeda operatives to escape from a Yemeni jail in 2006. He is considered to be a top contender to take command of the global terror network if al Qaeda’s central leadership based in Pakistan is decapitated in Pakistan, a senior U.S. military intelligence official who closely tracks al Qaeda’s network told The Long War Journal.
"Shihri is a Saudi citizen who was detained by the U.S. and transfered in Guantanamo Bay for his connections to al Qaeda. He served as an 'al Qaeda travel facilitator' in Mashad, Iran, where he would help al Qaeda operatives enter Afghanistan. He was also connected to the Saudi ‘charity’ al Wafa, which has been designated under Executive Order 13224 as a terrorist organization and is briefly mentioned in 9/11 Commission’s report as an al Qaeda front."
Mr. Roggio added that Shihri was released from Guantánamo into Saudi custody in late 2007 and put through a rehabilitation program for former jihadists – a program the Christian Science Monitor reported on in August 2008. He also said that Shihri was involved in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Sanaa last year.
FT. HOOD SHOOTER'S SPIRITUAL LEADER TARGETED IN YEMEN AIR STRIKE
By Joe Wolvertion, II
December 24, 2009
In the twilight of the pre-dawn on Thursday, bombs dropped on the home of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born, Yemeni-based cleric. Yemeni Air Forces carried out the attack in an effort to kill al-Qaeda militants reportedly gathered there to plan attacks on Western concerns. At the time of this writing, it is unclear whether the controversial imam was actually killed in the early morning air strike.
What is clear is the influence Awlaki exerted over Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the army officer accused of murdering 13 people at a processing center on Fort Hood, Texas, November 5. In an interview with al-Jazeera, Awlaki proudly confirms the email exchange he carried on with Hasan beginning in December 2008, nearly a year prior to the psychiatrist’s murderous rampage. Specifically, Awlaki, who once mentored Hasan in his role as prayer leader at the Ft. Hood shooter’s mosque in northern Virginia, told the Arab news agency that Hasan asked him whether the killing of U.S. soldiers was justified under Islamic law.
In the interview, Awlaki does not answer the reporter’s question as to whether or not he encouraged Hasan to carry out his apparently pre-meditated assassination of soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. However, he does state that in his opinion “the operation had a military target inside America, and there's no dispute about that.” He goes on to proclaim that, “working in the U.S. military to kill Muslims is a betrayal to Islam.” Curiously, the American expatriate does not comment on whether or not his proven association and advocacy of the terrorism perpetrated by al-Qaeda is faithful to Islamic principles.
In a dramatic display of bravado that in light of the military targeting of his home may seem the haughty spirit that came before the fall, Awlaki bragged to al-Jazeera that the only reason the American government has not released the content of his electronic correspondence with Hasan is that it will confirm their ineptitude and the inability of the intelligence agencies that were monitoring Hasan’s communication to perceive his radical bent, predict the violent potential therein, and prevent the murder of twelve soldiers and one civilian last month. “Where was American intelligence that claimed once that it can read any car plate number anywhere in the world?" asked Awlaki with a mocking air.
Hasan, whether motivated by the counsel he received from Awlaki or not, has been discharged from ICU and now sits paralyzed in a room in a San Antonio hospital awaiting the commencement of the military tribunal that will try him for his crimes. In late breaking news on Christmas Eve, Texas media outlets are reporting that several Lone Star lawmakers have sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army requesting that Hasan be charged with a separate crime for the death of the unborn of child of Army Private Francheska Velez, who was pregnant when Hasan killed her on November 5. According to the petition, the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides for the prosecution of causing the death of a child in utero. The Secretary has not responded.
When asked about his feelings for Hasan, Anwar al-Awlaki claims to have no personal affection for his erstwhile acolyte, but he reckons that Hasan will be executed for the crimes with which he has been charged. While he laments that there is nothing he can do to prevent that administration of earthly justice, Awlaki assures his interviewer that, “I ask God to accept him [Hasan] as a martyr.”
HAS THE ALLEGED FORT HOOD GUNMAN'S IMAM BEEN SILENCED?
By Bobby Ghosh
December 24, 2009
U.S. officials are awaiting confirmation that a Yemeni air strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American cleric who exchanged email messages with the alleged Fort Hood Shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan. Counterterrorism officials and experts have differing views on Awlaki's importance to the wider jihadist cause. "The death of Awlaki would deprive al-Qaeda of a prominent face, a prominent voice, and someone who'd gotten involved in operations," says one counterterrorism official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to discuss the air strike with the media.
But Peter Bergen, an Al-Qaeda expert at the New American Foundation, says Awlaki was merely "important as an inciter to jihad, no more." Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University says it's unlikely Awlaki would have beeen involved in operational activities. "He was a cleric, not a field commander," he says.
Whatever his position in the Al Qaeda hierarchy, Awlaki had emerged as a major headache for U.S. officials. American-born and educated, he had contact with at least two 9/11 hijackers before fleeing the U.S. in late 2001. In Yemen, he became something of an e-imam, using the internet to preach fiery anti-American and anti-West sermons. He called upon believers to rise up against the U.S. Because his sermons were published in English, he became popular with radical American Muslims. "He understood American society and was able to tailor his message to American audiences," says Hoffman.
Hasan, accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, reached out to Awlaki a year ago. Although Awlaki denies encouraging Hasan to kill, the cleric praised the major on his website as a "hero" after the shootings, and exhorted other Muslims in the U.S. military to follow his example. (See an assessment of the growing al-Qaeda threat in Yemen.)
Initial reports that the airstrike may have been the work of the CIA seem to have been mistaken: Yemeni authorities say it was their jets that conducted the dawn operation, in the province of Shabwa, 400 miles south of the capital Sana'a. In a statement, the Yemeni embassy in Washington D.C. said the strike targeted a meeting of "scores of Yemeni and foreign Al Qaeda operatives." The meeting had been called to discuss retaliation for government raids in mid-December on al-Qaeda hideouts in Abyan and Sana'a provinces.
Around 30 people are reported to have beeen killed in the strike, among them, Nasser Al-Wuhayshi, the regional al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Saeed Al-Shihri, a former Gitmo detainee. Shihri was repatriated in 2007 to Saudi Arabia, where he was enrolled in a rehabilitation program for hardcore jihadists. Shortly after his release, however, he returned to the al-Qaeda fold in Yemen.
BATTLE AGAINST AL-QAIDA STEPPED UP IN YEMEN
By Lolita C. Baldor
December 24, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has poured nearly $70 million in military aid to Yemen this year, a massive financial infusion aimed at eliminating the expanding al-Qaida safe havens in that country.
Airstrikes Thursday in Yemen's Shabwa province, in which at least 30 suspected militants were said to have been killed, is evidence of Yemen's more aggressive efforts against al-Qaida.
The U.S. spending in the fast-growing campaign to better equip and fund Yemeni forces compares with no spending in 2008.
Much like the effort with Pakistan's Frontier Corps, the U.S. military has boosted its counterterrorism training for Yemeni forces, and is providing more intelligence, which probably includes surveillance by unmanned drones, according to U.S. officials and analysts.
The heightened attention comes at a politically sensitive time, as the U.S. and Yemen continue talks on the possible transfer of Yemeni detainees in the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba back to their homeland. The transfer is critical to President Barack Obama's pledge to shut down Guantanamo, but U.S. leaders are not convinced that Yemen is prepared to handle the detainees, or that they won't simply be set free.
Information about any spike in U.S. involvement -- including an airstrike last week, which missed a key al-Qaida leader but killed other militants and, reportedly, some civilians [NOTE: it would be more accurate to say "killed civilians and, reportedly, some militants" --H.A.] -- is closely guarded by Yemeni authorities, who fear that a visible American role in the country will fuel internal conflicts.
As a result, observers can only whisper about Americans coming and going at an increasing rate from a military base in northwest Yemen, or the sightings of new aircraft and drones in the skies above.
The training sessions are generally small-scale events that last a few weeks, and the number of military trainers in the country has fluctuated over time, said a senior defense official. The official said the counterterrorism training has varied from ground combat to air and maritime instruction.
"The U.S. presence is certainly growing there," said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, who regularly visits the country. He said it was particularly evident at the U.S. embassy this summer, when he was last in the country.
That increase, along with the recent strikes, may only result in more support for al-Qaida in Yemen and stir up anti-government factions, he said.
"In the end it's probably counterproductive," said Johnsen, adding that video and photos of women and children killed by the blast could create "a recruiting field day for al-Qaida."
U.S. officials will not publicly confirm participation in last week's strike, and will only offer broad comments about U.S. activities in Yemen.
"We continue to provide advice, training and equipment to both Saudi Arabia and Yemen as part of our ongoing security cooperation," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Others, however, acknowledge U.S. involvement in the bombing, and say the U.S. is providing increased logistical and surveillance support to Yemen in its campaign to stamp out the resurgent al-Qaida militancy in the vast ungoverned spaces.
The operation is the culmination of a strategy shift that occurred about a year ago, when the United States determined that the two key centers in the fight against al-Qaida are Yemen, located on the southern tip of the Saudi Arabian peninsula, and Pakistan, a military official with direct knowledge of the strategy told The Associated Press.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of the operations, say the support comes at the request of Yemen.
Crowley flatly denied suggestions that the U.S. is getting involved in Yemen's internal war with Shiite Hawthi rebels in the north, saying "we have no direct role in what's happening along the border."
Saudi Arabia launched an air and ground offensive in the north against the Yemeni rebels on Nov. 5, after skirmishes along the border.
Many believe that conflict has evolved into a clash between U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, accused by Yemen of backing the rebels. The Shiite rebels charge that the Yemeni government is allied with hardline Sunnis. Tehran has denied any involvement.
Visits to Yemen by U.S. diplomats and military leaders, pressuring the government to step up its campaign against al-Qaida, have been steady.
Yemeni officials, meanwhile, stress that they need better equipment and other aid.
This year, the U.S. complied, with plans to provide more than $30 million for ships and other equipment for the Coast Guard, $25 million for border security, and about $6 million for helicopters with night cameras.
Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said direct military involvement in Yemen will not adequately address the problem.
"We need to build local capacity to deal with the issues on their own," said Boucek. "There is a lot we can do to address the issue short of dropping bombs."
Al-Qaida's operatives in Yemen and Saudi Arabia merged early this year to become al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. U.S. intelligence officials said that was followed by more recruiting and efforts -- mostly unsuccessful -- by those operatives to cross the border from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.
AQAP has also made it clear in communications through the Internet and by other means that it intends to target Western interests across the Arabian peninsula.
--Associated Press writers Pamela Hess, Ben Feller and Matthew Lee in Washington and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.