Special army troops led by the president’s son searched for Muslim militants linked to Osama bin Laden in Yemen today, one day after clashes killed at least 18 people from both sides.
“This is a hot pursuit that will continue until the terrorist elements are arrested,” one official told Reuters.
The military action came after the Yemen government demanded the turnover of several Islamic militants and tribal leaders accused by the U.S. of working with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
“The government gave [the tribe] an ultimatum to hand over the suspects. When they refused, they launched the attack,” a Yemeni security official said.
The attack consisted of helicopter gunships, backed by tanks and ground troops.
Tribal sources said 18 people have been killed from both sides and at least 25 wounded in the strike and ensuing clashes. The target was the al-Jalal tribe, who are reportedly sheltering the militants in Marib province, 85 miles east of the capital, Sanaa.
The government-controlled newspaper called the move Yemen’s contribution to the global war on terrorism, but stressed it had taken the action independently.
“Pursuing suspected terrorists is a Yemeni decision and is conducted by using its own national resources,” the paper said, according to Reuters reports. It added that some of the militants were non-Yemenis, who had “shown no respect for Yemen’s hospitality… because of their involvement in destructive activities.”
In Washington, the U.S. praised the resolve of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“It’s clear that he intends to go after terrorism, that he is committed to the fight against terrorism,” State Department Spokesman Richard Bouchard said Tuesday. “We welcomed that… We’ll continue to work with them in the overall fight.”
Report: US considering moves against Somalia
Also on Wednesday, there were reports that the U.S. was considering actions against Somalia as part of its anti-terror fight.
Wire services reported that a senior German official said the U.S. was planning to continue its efforts to root out the al-Qaida network in the war-torn African nation.
“It’s not a question of ‘if’ but of ‘how’ and ‘when’,” the wire services reported the German as saying. “Anyone who rules out Somalia would be a fool.”
According to the source, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated the move during discussions at this week’s NATO conference in Brussels.
In Washington, officials dismissed the idea that Rumsfeld would name Somalia as the next target in the ongoing action against al-Qaida.
“I can almost guarantee you that the secretary has not indicated what any next country — if there is a next country — will be,” Pentagon spokesman Richard McGraw said.
Although Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said he would not “speculate on any next operation,” he did say that any nation that may harbor terrorists was a concern to the U.S.
“Countries that harbor terrorists worry us,” Myers said when pressed about the reports. “And Somalia is one potential country — there are others as well — a potential country where you might have diplomatic, law enforcement action or potentially military action. All the instruments of national power, not just one.”
Somalia, a poor nation on the eastern edge of Africa, says it will help in the U.S. efforts if offered information on suspected terrorists in their country.
“We have said since Sept. 11 that we want to help. If the Americans say there are terrorists in Somalia, they should tell us how they know this,” Abdi Guled Mohamed, a member of Somalia’s transitional government, told Reuters on Wednesday. “If there are terrorists there, than we will put them in prison, put them where they belong. We will work with the Americans to fight terrorists.”
Coordination with the transitional government may be complicated though. The U.S. does not recognize any government in the civil war-torn nation. Although efforts are underway to form a government, American officials have said they are concerned that Somalia’s lack of central authority makes it an attractive base for terrorists.