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Yemen arrests al Qaeda leader


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(CNN) -- Yemeni security officials Tuesday arrested a senior al Qaeda leader who played a major role in planning the deadly October 2000 terror attack on the USS Cole, the official Yemeni news agency Saba reported.

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The news agency said Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal surrendered to security forces after they surrounded a home where he was hiding west of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.

"He had to give himself up to police," an Interior Ministry source was quoted as saying.

U.S. intelligence officials confirmed al-Ahdal was captured by Yemeni security forces.

According to the Saba report, al-Ahdal received about $500,000 from sources outside Yemen to fund terror attacks inside the Arab nation.

The report said he had a primary planning role in the attack on the USS Cole, in which an explosives-laden dinghy blew up and ripped a hole in the side of the ship, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

Authorities said that attack was spearheaded by al Qaeda leader Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, who was killed last year when an unmanned CIA drone fired a Hellfire missile on his car in eastern Yemen.

The Saba report said al-Ahdal was the "main partner" of al-Harthi.

U.S. intelligence officials said al-Ahdal remains in the custody of Yemeni security forces. One official called the capture "important."

The officials said al-Ahdal is a significant player with the terrorist group in Yemen, where he has been involved in planning past operations. He is "well worth capturing," one official said.

U.S. officials do not expect al-Ahdal to be turned over to the United States because he is wanted for crimes in Yemen and is a Yemeni citizen.

The U.S. officials said that while al-Ahdal is an important figure in the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda, they do not believe he is the No. 2 person in the terror group there.

Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden.

CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.


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