Yemeni air strike kills 30, targets home of cleric linked to Ft. Hood attack
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 24, 2009; 7:10 AM
SANAA, YEMEN -- Yemeni forces killed at least 30 suspected militants in an air strike early Thursday morning on an alleged al-Qaeda hide-out in southeastern Yemen, the second such assault in the past week, according to Yemeni security and government sources.
The strike appeared to target the home of Anwar al-Aulaqi, the extremist Yemeni-American preacher linked to the suspected gunman in the Fort Hood army base attack in November.
A Yemeni government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said al-Qaeda leaders were believed to be meeting at the house. It was unknown whether Aulaqi was present at the gathering, and, if so, whether he died or escaped, the official said.
Aulaqi has been linked to Maj. Nidal Hassan, the gunman suspected of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., Army base on Nov. 5.
A close relative of Aulaqi, when reached at their family home in Sanaa, the capital, told The Washington Post that family members did not believe that Aulaqi was still residing in Shabwa, a southeastern province of Yemen.
"We have not had any confirmation yet" that Aulaqi was at the meeting, said a man with an American accent who identified himself as Aulaqi's brother. "I don't believe it is true."
The family has denied that Aulaqi has links to al-Qaeda.
The air strike allegedly targeted a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders gathered to discuss retaliatory attacks on Yemeni and foreign sites, including economic facilities, according to reports on the Web site of Yemen's official state agency Saba and 26 Sept.net, a Web site linked to the Yemen's military.
The Web sites, both citing security officials, said al-Qaeda's top leaders in the Arabian Peninsula -- Nasir al Wuhayshi and Said al-Shihri -- were believed to be at the meeting. But a government official cautioned that the leaders' presence was yet to be confirmed.
Yemen's government, with assistance from the United States, has intensified its crackdown on alleged hideouts of al-Qaeda, whose presence in recent years has expanded in this poor yet strategic Middle East nation, where Osama Bin Laden's father was born.
Last week, Yemeni forces, backed by air strikes, killed at least 28 alleged militants in an attack on an alleged al-Qaeda training camp in the southern province of Abyan and captured 17 others in and near Sanaa. Tribal and opposition leaders say that most of those killed in Abyan were civilians, mostly women and children. The United States provided intelligence and other assistance to Yemeni forces in that attack, according to U.S. officials.
The U.S. government is increasingly concerned that al-Qaeda could create a haven in Yemen, whose weak central government is struggling with a civil war in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and a crumbling economy.
Shabwa, the site of Thursday's attack, is a known haven for al-Qaeda militants. Yemeni security and government sources said the dead from the attack included suspected al-Qaeda members of Yemeni and foreign nationalities, but would not elaborate.
Al Qaeda here is largely comprised of Yemeni and Saudi nationals, according to analysts.
In 2000, al-Qaeda bombers attacked the USS Cole in the southern Yemini city of Aden, killing 17 American sailors. Since then, militants have attacked U.S. missionaries, foreign tourists and Yemeni security forces. Last year, gunmen targeted the American embassy with a car bomb and rockets. The attack killed 16, including six assailants.