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Yemen: Hotbed for militant groups

Al Qaeda has been blamed for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Al Qaeda has been blamed for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

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SAN'A, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen, the ancestral homeland of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is a hotbed for extremist Islamic militant groups, finding refuge in the country's mountainous, tribal strongholds.

Security in Yemen has been a top U.S. priority since the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors. The attack was blamed on al Qaeda, held responsible for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

It is thought that a number of al Qaeda leaders may have fled to Yemen after being pushed out of Afghanistan last year, but the U.S. has warned of threats to American citizens from a number of Islamic militant groups in the country.

In November, a CIA-operated Predator drone fired a missile that killed bin Laden's top lieutenant in Yemen, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, and five other al Qaeda suspects.

A week ago the chief of the U.S.-led task force in the strategic Horn of Africa discussed military cooperation and the war on terror with Yemen's president.

Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, praised U.S.-Yemeni relations during his meeting with host Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni news agency reported.

Sattler's combined task force began operations this month with the arrival of the USS Mount Whitney in the Gulf of Aden off Djibouti. Its mission is to combat global terrorism in and around the strategic Horn of Africa.

About 400 members representing all the U.S. armed services, civilian personnel and members of coalition forces are aboard the Mount Whitney. Another 900 U.S. military personnel are based at Camp Lemonier, a former French installation, adjacent to Djibouti's airport.

A month ago on December 1 the U.S. State Department warned Americans against traveling to Yemen because of terror threats following the suicide bombing at Mombasa, Kenya, which killed 16.

The same day, attackers armed with shoulder-fired missiles attempted to shoot down an Israeli charter plane as it look off from the Kenyan resort.

"The department has received credible reports that terrorists associated with al Qaeda have planned attacks against U.S. interests in Yemen, and the department anticipates that threats against American citizens in Yemen will continue," the State Department advised travellers.

The statement said the risk to Americans in Yemen was "high."

It went on to say that Americans in Yemen should be especially careful at "locations associated with foreigners," such as the trade center in Yemen's capital Sanaa; American-affiliated franchises, restaurants and shops in the Haddah area of Sanaa; and at restaurants and hotels frequented by expatriates.

In March, the State Department ended voluntary departure for non-emergency personnel of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and their family members, due to beefed-up security measures and evidence of co-operation from the Yemeni government in fighting terrorism.

The State Department said that the embassy might close or suspend services from time to time to assess the security situation in Yemen.

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