Thousands flee Yemen fighting

Up to 12,000 civilians have fled their homes in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa because of heavy fighting between government forces and suspected Al-Qaeda militants, according to Yemen’s Red Crescent.

Three Al-Qaeda militants and two soldiers have died in the clashes that erupted Sunday at dawn, a security source said.

Between 8,000 and 12,000 people have left the town of Al-Hota and surrounding areas due to the violence, the local branch of the Red Crescent said in a report to the Red Cross in Sanaa.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry said in its online newspaper that security forces engaged in fierce clashes in Shabwa with “armed elements” from Al-Qaeda, among whom were foreigners, including Saudis, “who are trying to mingle with the population.”

Those displaced by the recent fighting have fled to nearby towns or provinces, the majority staying with relatives in highly cramped conditions, the Red Crescent said in its report, calling for urgent food and medical supplies.

Al-Qaeda said Monday it is holding a senior security officer and gave the government 48 hours to release two militants. The group said it is holding Saada province’s deputy director of political security, Col. Ali Mohammed Saleh Al-Hussam, who was kidnapped near his home on Aug. 26.

It said he would be released only if the government frees Hussain Al-Tais and Mashhour Aal-Ahdal.

Shabwa is the home province and suspected hiding place of radical preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US-Yemeni citizen wanted by US authorities for his links to Al-Qaeda.

US President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan visited Yemen Monday and discussed cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda, the White House said.

Brennan met President Ali Abdullah Saleh and delivered a letter from Obama expressing US support for a “unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

“President Saleh and Mr. Brennan discussed cooperation against the continuing threat of Al-Qaeda, and Mr. Brennan conveyed the United States’ condolences to the Yemeni people for the loss of Yemeni security officers and citizens killed in recent Al-Qaeda attacks,” Hammer said.

Meanwhile, four alleged Al-Qaeda militants, including a German and an Iraqi, appeared before a Sanaa court on Monday charged with planning attacks on foreign, government and military targets.

No mention was made in the charge sheet however of the defendants’ alleged involvement in a suicide attack targeting the British ambassador’s convoy in Sanaa in April.

The defendants denied the charges, and the court, which specializes in terrorism cases, set Oct. 3 as the date for the next hearing.

According to the Saba state news agency, the four are accused of taking part in “plans to carry out criminal acts, targeting tourists, foreign interests, and vital government and military installations.”

They are also accused of “confronting the state in (the southern province of) Marib, endangering the community’s safety and security … (and) forming secret cells in preparation for carrying out suicide attacks,” Saba reported. -arabnews