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Top U.S. military commander meets with Yemeni president

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Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, has met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Gen. David Petraeus and President Ali Abdullah Saleh discuss al Qaeda intelligence
  • Saleh says Yemen will continue to assist in investigation into attempted airline bombing
  • President Obama has linked man behind botched attack to Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate
  • Yemen reportedly tightens security after threats from group of Somali militants

(CNN) -- Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday in Yemen, according to a senior U.S. government source.

During the meeting with Petraeus, Saleh expressed his appreciation for the United States' help in combating extremists, the source said.

Saleh also offered more support for U.S. counterterrorism strikes and said he would continue providing assistance for the U.S. investigation into the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25.

The official said that Petraeus carried several messages and "various items" of information from Obama to Saleh. No further details were available.

The two men discussed the latest intelligence on al Qaeda in Yemen, the official said, adding that the number of attendees was very small on both sides.

Obama aide John Brennan briefed the president on Petraeus' trip to Yemen, after Brennan spoke with the general, the senior U.S. government official and a senior administration official said.

"Gen. Petraeus was in Yemen today as part of our ongoing consultations with and efforts in support of Yemen," the senior administration official said. "We have made Yemen a priority over the course of this year, and this is the latest in that effort."

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President Obama on Saturday linked the man accused in the botched attack to an al Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen.

The group, called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, apparently trained Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian national accused of trying to blow up Northwest Flight 253 en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, Obama said Saturday.

The group equipped AbdulMutallab with explosives and "directed him to attack that plane headed for America," Obama said in his weekly radio address.

"This is not the first time this group has targeted us," Obama noted. "They have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants and embassies -- including our embassy in 2008.

"I've made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government -- training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al Qaeda terrorists," he said.

Yemen is tightening security at its southern and western coasts in an attempt to thwart "possible infiltration of militants" from a Somalia-based Young Mujahedeen Movement, the official SABA state news agency reported Saturday.

The group, also known as Harakat Al Shabaab, announced on Friday its "readiness to support their brothers in Yemen," SABA reported.

"The group said its militants will cross the sea and fight on the side of the terrorists in Yemen against the enemy of Allah," the news agency said.

SABA reported that counterterrorism troops in Yemen have in recent weeks raided several al Qaeda hideouts and training sites, and have killed and arrested scores of terrorist suspects.

It also said that weapons were seized in recent months "with a number of African infiltrators who crossed the sea into Yemen."

"Authorities also said that dozens of Africans, most of whom were Somalis, were arrested fighting the army in support of the Houthi insurgents in the far north," SABA reported.

American and Yemeni officials are now looking at fresh targets in Yemen for a potential retaliation strike, two senior U.S. officials told CNN Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Friday for an international meeting later this month to discuss how to counter radicalization in Yemen.

On Tuesday, Yemen's parliament ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, the official SABA state news agency reported. The move aligned Yemen with the United States in expanding the fight against terrorism to sources of funding.

Petraeus and John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism adviser, also visited Saleh in Yemen last summer to discuss the threat of terrorism.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

 
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