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Air strike kills suspected al Qaeda chiefs in north

An air strike in north Yemen killed six suspected leaders of al Qaeda including its military boss, a senior Yemeni official said. The targeted group had claimed responsibility for the foiled Christmas day plane bombing.

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AFP - An air strike Friday on an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) position in north Yemen killed six suspected leaders of the group including its military boss, a senior Yemeni official said.

The military chief, Qassem al-Rimi, was among 23 people who made a daring escape from a state security prison in Sanaa in February 2006 that left the government red-faced.

"Six Al-Qaeda leaders, including the network's military chief, Qassem al-Rimi, were killed on Friday," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"Ammar al-Waili, Ayedh al-Shabwani and Saleh al-Tais were also killed in the raid" at Al-Ajashir, a desert region in the eastern part of Saada province, he said.

The two other leaders were not named, while two other men fled the scene.

The Friday morning raid targeted two vehicles carrying eight members of Al-Qaeda, "six of whom were killed and two managed to escape," another official said earlier.

AQAP has claimed responsibility for a botched attack carried out by a Nigerian national on a US airliner on Christmas Day.

The news came on the day Britain said it would host an international meeting on fighting extremism in Yemen on January 27 in London.

A Foreign Office spokesman said in London a meeting on Yemen called for January 28 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown following the failed airliner attack will now take place the day before.

He could not yet confirm which countries were likely to attend.

In a Friday sermon, meanwhile, powerful cleric Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zendani said it would be "a religious duty dictated by God" to defend Yemen through jihad, or holy war, if it is occupied by a foreign power.

He was responding in part to comments on Wednesday by Carl Levin, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, who urged Washington to consider targeting Al-Qaeda in Yemen with armed drones, air strikes or covert operations, but not invade the country.

"From the moment the enemy invites itself onto our territory and occupies us, our religion imposes (the obligation of) jihad on us," said Zendani, who has been labelled a "global terrorist" by the US administration.

"It is a religious duty dictated by God," he said during his sermon in Sanaa.

"This order of God cannot be annulled by anyone... not a king, not a president, not ulema (Muslim scholars)," Zendani added.

Yemen's council of clerics, which includes Zendani, had made a similar call for jihad on Thursday if foreign forces join the war on Al-Qaeda in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.

"If any party insists on aggression, or invades the country, then according to Islam, jihad becomes obligatory," said a statement signed by 150 clerics read out at a news conference.

The clerics also stressed "strong rejection of any foreign intervention in Yemeni affairs, whether political or military."

They also rejected "any security or military agreement or cooperation (between Yemen and) any foreign party if it violates Islamic Sharia (law)" and the "setting up any military bases in Yemen, or in its territorial waters."

In his Friday sermon, Zendani repeated that "we reject any interference" in Yemeni affairs, adding that the "right of self defence is a duty."

He called on his fellow Yemenis to "promote the fatwa (religious decree) in the media and on the Internet," and urged Arab and Muslim countries to support Yemen "before a catastrophe occurs."

"The Islamic nation will not stand by with its arms crossed in the face of these Crusades," he added.

"To defend ourselves and defend our country and our territory, we only fear God... And we are confident in victory," he told worshippers to cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is greater).

Washington has accused AQAP of training the man who allegedly carried out the Christmas Day failed attack, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Sanaa has intensified its operations against the militants, insisting it can tackle them on its own without the need for foreign military intervention.

On Thursday the defence ministry vowed to do "clear" Yemen of Al-Qaeda jihadists and warned that "intensive operations" will continue against Osama bin Laden's extremists.

US President Barack Obama has said he has "no intention" of sending troops to Yemen, or to Somalia, in the Horn of Africa just across the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

 

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