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US embassy in Sanaa reopens after two-day security closure

The US embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa has reopened after "successful counter-terrorism operations" addressed security concerns that prompted a two-day closure.


The United States reopened its embassy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Tuesday after shutting its doors for two days in light of security concerns, saying the “specific area of concern” that prompted the closure had been addressed while the British and French embassies, also shut down in light of recent threats, have not confirmed plans to resume normal operations.

"Successful counter-terrorism operations conducted by the government of Yemen security forces January 4 north of the capital have addressed a specific area of concern and have contributed to the embassy’s decision to resume operations," the embassy said on its website, an apparent reference to a Yemeni police operation that took place on Monday near Arhab, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Sanaa.

Two militants were killed in the Monday clashes as Yemeni forces searched Arhab for suspected al Qaeda leader Mohammed al-Hanq, who managed to flee the fighting as police battled his bodyguards.


The embassy in Sanaa was effusive in its praise of renewed attempts by Yemen’s government to root out Islamist militancy within its borders. "The United States commends the government of Yemen for its efforts to disrupt Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) networks and reiterates its commitment to continue to support these efforts,” the embassy said.

Longtime concerns over militant activity in Yemen were again thrown into the spotlight when al Qaeda’s branch in the country claimed responsibility for a failed attack on Christmas Day in which a Nigerian national tried to blow up a US-bound plane over Detroit.

The scale of the militant threat is not lost on the West, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warning this week that the trouble brewing in Yemen would have consequences across the globe.

"The instability in Yemen is a threat to regional stability and even global stability," Clinton told journalists after Monday talks with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani.

"We know that this is a difficult set of challenges, but they have to be addressed," she said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called last week for an international conference on extremism and security threats originating in Yemen to be held on January 28 in London.

Western help on terrorism ‘inadequate’

Even as Yemen tries to disrupt al Qaeda’s terrorist networks in the country, it faces an additional military threat from Shiite fighters in the north and political fracture in the south as an independence movement gains momentum.

Yemeni officials have repeatedly requested Western aid in the country’s counter-terrorism efforts, but that help has been slow in coming despite the widespread view that Yemen has become a safe haven where militants can plot attacks to be carried out beyond its borders.

Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi reiterated on Monday that Yemen needs help to tackle its militants and emphasised that it is in the global interest that it succeed. "Certainly there is a problem with al Qaeda and an interest among the international community in its activities," Qirbi said while on a visit to Qatar. “Yemen is capable of confronting these groups, but it needs international aid to form and train anti-terrorist units, as well as economic aid.”

In an interview last week with the BBC, Qirbi singled out the United States, Britain and the larger European Union, saying more assistance would be needed if Yemen is to bring its militants to heel.

“There is some support that is coming, but I must say it is inadequate,” he told the broadcaster. “We need more training, we have to expand our counter-terrorism units, and this means providing them with the necessary military equipment and ways of transportation.”

“We are very short of helicopters,” he added.

US President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, said on Sunday that the United States was in a "determined and concerted effort" to help fund Yemen's counter-terrorism efforts.

A January 3 statement from Brown's office said that Britain and the United States had agreed to fund special counter-terrorism forces in Yemen and boost peacekeeping in Somalia. "Downing Street and the White House have agreed to intensify joint US-UK work to tackle the emerging terrorist threat from both Yemen and Somalia in the wake of the failed Detroit terror plot," the statement said.

Diplomatic efforts have also been stepped up, with the US commander in the region, Gen. David Petraeus, meeting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday, Yemeni media reported.

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